Mistakes To Avoid When Writing a Will . . . and What to Do Instead
Mistakes To Avoid When Writing a Will . . . and What to Do Instead
Today’s Guest Post is from Fabric.
Fabric Insurance Agency, LLC offers a mobile experience for people on-the-go who want an easy and fast way to purchase life insurance.
This article is designed to provide general information on the subjects covered. It is not, however, intended to provide specific tax or legal advice. Please note that Fabric and its representatives do not give tax or legal advice. You are encouraged to consult with your tax advisor or attorney concerning your own situation.
Writing a will is a key ingredient in a well-balanced financial life for your family–it’s your opportunity to decide who should get your assets when you pass away, including specific gifts to people or organizations. It’s also your chance to designate a legal guardian for your children–that’s the person you’d want to look after your kids if something were to happen to you.
Certainly, a last will and testament can be complicated . . . but it doesn’t have to be. Fabric lets you create a will, online, for free, and the median time to create one was only seven minutes. We then provide you with instructions on how to make it legally binding.
There are times when it makes sense to consult an estate lawyer, such as if you have specific questions, a large amount of assets or a complicated estate situation. That said, it’s important not to let the complexity of the task keep you from getting started–as that’s the biggest mistake of all.
Whether you DIY your will online or work with an attorney, here are some big mistakes we’ve seen when people write their last will and testament, and how to avoid them:
Not making a will at all
Too many people put off writing a will because it sounds time-consuming or complicated, or because they mistakenly think that a will is only necessary for rich folks. Whether you have a lot of assets or a little, this is an opportunity to make your wishes known.
Through your will and ancillary documents, you can even specify your last wishes–for example, if you want to be buried or cremated, and what kind of ceremony you would (or wouldn’t) want. Many of our customers go so far as to specify what music they want played at their funerals, or request that guests make charitable donations instead of bringing flowers.
Designating your kids’ other parent as legal guardian
Generally speaking, if you pass away but your kids’ other parent survives, that person will usually get automatic custody. So, saying in your will that that person should get the kids if you pass away is a missed opportunity. The intent, in fact, is for you to select a legal guardian other than your kids’ other parent–that way if you were to both pass away, there’s a clear process for who should step up.
You can also designate backup guardians, so if your first guardian isn’t able or available to care for your kids, then your backup can do the job.
Not aligning your will with your spouse’s
Let’s imagine that you wrote in your will that you’d like your sister to inherit all your belongings after you’re gone, and your spouse writes in their will that their mother should inherit everything. If you two have joint finances and co-own your home, and die at the same time, what happens?
One way you can try to avoid grief on the part of your survivors down the line is to make sure your wishes are as clear as can be, and that they’re aligned with your spouse’s. So, if you want to carve out a few thousand dollars for your sister and he wants to donate a family heirloom to charity, it could be ideal for both of your wills to mention both the sister and the charity. The more aligned your wills are, the greater the chances your survivors will be able to avoid too much conflict down the line.
Some online will tools actually have features to help on this front. For example, Fabric lets you create a will for your spouse that mirrors your own selections. So, if you choose to leave a special gift for someone, that’ll be reflected in your spouse’s will, too. Because your wills will mirror each other, we recommend you work together to decide on your last wishes before you get started creating your joint wills.
Of course, your spouse will have to agree to the version you create (to make it legally binding, he or she will need to follow the steps in a checklist—including printing, signing and getting the document witnessed). But this is a nice opportunity not only to save time but to help spark important conversations and make sure that your wishes are aligned.
Removing the staple from your will
OK, this may sound crazy, but it’s true. In some cases, removing a staple from the pages of your will could actually invalidate it! That’s because some people could see it as potential evidence that your will was tampered with, as it’s less clear what originally was, and wasn’t, part of the stapled packet.
Bottom line? Aim to staple your completed will, and then don’t undo that.
Not actually following through
When you make a will online, you’re guided through various questions and then given a PDF at the end with a written-up version of your will. That alone isn’t legally binding in its own right.
With the exception of only a couple states, you don’t actually have to get your will notarized (although you can choose to do so if you wish): You just need to print it out, and sign it in the presence of two witnesses who are impartial, or not written into your will in any way. In many cases, this can be as simple as printing your will at work and getting two coworkers to act as your witnesses.
Easy or not, however, many people create a will template without actually following through and printing it out, or getting it signed and witnessed. That’s like running a marathon only to go home at mile 25. If you don’t go that last mile, your will won’t be legally binding!
Not telling your family members where your will is stored
Similarly, if you have a will but none of your loved ones know where to find it, it’s a tree-falling-in-the-forest situation. How are they supposed to consult your wishes if they don’t know what, or where, they are?
After making your will legally binding, make sure to tell your family where you’ve kept the original copy, whether it’s in a safe deposit box or a drawer somewhere in the house. At the end of the day, this original document is the one that really counts.
Additionally, you might turn to technology to keep relevant parties in the loop. Fabric, for example, lets you share your will with your spouse-beneficiary, which means that that person can sign into his or her own account and see vital details about your wishes, along with any updates you may’ve made over time.
Failing to update your will when things change
Your will is only as good as your last update–after all, if your decades-old will says that your favorite cousin should inherit your baseball card collection and you never made an update after that cataclysmic fight between you and your cousin, that’s what stands.
It’s a good idea to revisit this document whenever you undergo noteworthy life changes, like a marriage or divorce, the birth of a child or major changes in your relationships. (Note that when you make an update to your will, you’ll need to again make it legally binding by printing, signing and getting it witnessed.)
More than anything, bear in mind that your will is a reflection of your wishes. You might think of this process as a valuable opportunity to meditate on what matters most to you, and then actualize it.
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