Who Needs a Will?
Thinking and talking about what you want done with your assets after you die isn’t the most pleasant of subjects, yet it is one of the most important. Often, people completely avoid the subject and their loved ones are left with uncertainty. The bottom line: everyone should have a will.
It is estimated that over one-half of American’s die without a will. What that means is that the state you reside in will decide what happens to your assets or children if you pass without a will in force. The responsible thing to do is to seek an attorney with experience in Estate Planning who will guide you through exactly what type of will or trust suits your finances. But there is more: with the popularity of social media, you’ll need to take into account your internet presence and what you’d like to have done with all of your active accounts.
We’ve gathered some general guidelines from the USA.gov. Your situation may be different and the attorneys in our Douglasville law office will be pleased to work with you to craft the right document that accurately reflects your wishes.
Rules To Remember When Writing A Will
- In most states, you must be 18 years of age or older.
- A will must be written in sound judgment and mental capacity to be valid.
- The document must clearly state that it is your will.
- An executor of your will, who ensures your estate is distributed according to your wishes, must be named.
- It is not necessary to notarize or record your will, but these can safeguard against any claims that your will is invalid. To be valid, you must sign a will in the presence of at least two witnesses.
Choose an Executor
An executor is the person who is responsible for settling the estate after death. Duties of an executor include:
- Taking inventory of property and belongings
- Appraising and distributing assets
- Paying taxes
- Settling debts owed by the deceased
Most importantly, the executor is legally obligated to act in the interests of the deceased, following the wishes provided by the will. Again, it could be helpful to consult an attorney to help with the probate process or offer legal guidance. Any person over the age of 18, who hasn’t been convicted of a felony, can be named executor of a will. Some people choose a lawyer, accountant or financial consultant based on their experience. Others choose a spouse, adult child, relative or friend. Since the role of executor can be demanding, it’s often a good idea to ask the person being named in a will if he or she is willing to serve.
If you’ve been named executor in someone’s will but are not able or do not want to serve, you need to file a declination, which is a legal document that declines your designation as an executor. The contingent executor named in the will then assumes responsibility. If no contingent executor is named, the court will appoint one.
As you write your will, you need to decide who you want to inherit your assets to ensure that your possessions are transferred according to your wishes. Primary beneficiaries are your first choice to receive your assets. You should also consider choosing secondary or contingent beneficiaries. If your primary beneficiary dies before you do or does not meet a condition (ex. age) for inheritance, your secondary beneficiaries will receive your assets. Designating a secondary beneficiary can also prevent going through probate, which can be time-consuming and expensive. Use specific names instead of broad categories like “nieces and nephews” when naming beneficiaries in your will.
You should also add primary and secondary beneficiaries on your individual bank accounts, the deeds to your homes and cars, contents of your safe deposit boxes, investments and insurance policies to make it easier to transfer the assets. Also, remember that establishing someone as a power of attorney does not automatically make this person a beneficiary of your assets. After you die, this person will not have the right to the money or to even access your account. If you want this person to be a beneficiary, you must state it in your will.
Review Your Estate Plan
Once you’ve completed a will, it’s a good idea to review it from time to time, and consider changes if:
- The value of your assets change
- You marry, divorce or remarry
- You have a child
- You move to a different state
- The executor of your will dies or becomes incapacitated or your relationship changes
- One of your heirs dies
- The laws affecting your estate change
Write a Social Media Will
Social media is a part of daily life, so what happens to the online content that you created once you die? If you are active online you should consider creating a statement of how you would like your online identity to be handled like a social media will. You should appoint someone you trust as an online executor. This person will be responsible for the closure of your email addresses, social media profiles, and blogs after you are deceased. Take these steps to help you write a social media will
Review the privacy policies and the terms and conditions of each website where you have a presence.
- State how you would like your profiles to be handled. You may want to completely cancel your profile or keep it up for friends and family to visit. Some sites allow users to create a memorial profile where other users can still see your profile but can’t post anything new.
- Give the social media executor a document that lists all the websites where you have a profile, along with your user names and passwords.
- Stipulate in your will that the online executor should have a copy of your death certificate. The online executor may need this as proof in order for websites to take any actions on your behalf.
- Check to see if the social media platforms have account management features to let you proactively manage what happens to your accounts after you die. For example, Google’s Inactive Account Manager allows you to manage how you want your online content to be saved or deleted. This feature also lets you give permission for your family or close friends to access the content you saved on Google websites after you die.
Remember, it doesn’t matter how much money a person has; wills aren’t just for the wealthy. No one likes to think about their own mortality, but you’ve worked hard all of your life for your assets, you should have the final say as to how they are distributed and/or finalized.
The information found on the Gerstenberger Law site is for educational purposes only. Your situation and the situation of others is unique and more complex. This is neither legal advice nor to be considered legal advice. Contact us for advice about your specific situation.