Wills: An Important Estate Planning Tool
Many people plan for the future in terms of what they hope to achieve while they’re alive. However, few people craft a plan for what they’d like to happen after their death. Wills are an important estate planning tool that help do just that.
Wills, when drafted effectively, can ensure that the people, pets, and belongings you care about continue to be cared for long after you are gone. A will is a blueprint for how your assets will be distributed, no matter how modest or grand your assets may be.
We all want to leave a legacy. Ensuring that your legacy is aligned with your goals, values, and vision starts with a will.
Frequently Asked Questions About Wills
What is a Will?
In short, wills are estate planning documents that spell out who should receive your assets upon death, as well as who will settle your estate and who should assume guardianship of your minor children. A will can cover a wide range of assets, including bank accounts, property, and your most valued possessions—anything from your vehicles to your collection of vintage Beatles records!
I don't have a lot of money. Do I still need a will?
Everyone needs a will, regardless of what your net worth may be—and regardless of whether or not you have children. At the most basic level, a will directs what money you DO have to the people or charitable organizations of your choosing, ensure that prized personal possessions make their way into the hands of friends and family, and ensure your social media accounts are handled as you wish.
As important as it is to ensure your assets are distributed per your wishes, it’s equally important that friends and family members (a) have access to your assets and (b) don’t argue about who gets which of your assets. Really, estate planning is an act of kindness that prevents your loved ones from experiencing unnecessary emotional and financial stress after you pass away.
What happens if I die without a will?
If you die without a will—also known as dying “intestate”—the court will follow intestate succession laws to distribute your assets. Intestate succession laws vary from state to state, but in Oregon you will be assigned a personal representative to be in charge of settling your estate (generally a surviving spouse or adult child) and your assets will be distributed to a surviving spouse, your children, your parents, or your siblings…in that order. Learn more about what happens when you die without a will in Oregon.
Dying without a will can be incredibly complicated and stressful—not to mention expensive—for your successors. Furthermore, your assets at death may be subject to higher taxes than if you had a properly-drafted will in place.
Do I need an estate planning attorney to draft a will?
Wills are highly-nuanced legal documents that should be drafted by a professional estate planning attorney. While there are do-it-yourself estate planning programs with templates for wills and other estate planning documents, we strongly discourage using them. There is no guarantee that a will drafted without legal guidance will be compliant with laws in your state. Furthermore, without the expert eye of an estate planning lawyer, a DIY will most likely won’t account for the possibility of a claim being made against your estate, or the inevitability of changing life circumstances: marriage, divorce, additions to the family, etc.
I feel overwhelmed. How do I start the process of drafting a will?
We understand that thinking about what will happen to your assets and children after your death is uncomfortable. However, once you draft your will, you’ll gain peace of mind knowing that your loved ones are protected—and that is not at all uncomfortable!
Stop procrastinating and start estate planning already! Before meeting with an estate planning attorney, make a list of your assets and debts, including bank accounts, investments, IRAs and 401(k)s, property and vehicles, valuable or prized possessions, the contents of safe deposit boxes, family heirlooms, and anything else you have specific desires for.
If you have an idea of how you’d like your assets to be distributed, start writing it down! The more thought you put into your will prior to meeting with an estate planning lawyer, the easier the process will be.
If you’re ready to get started, contact Caress Law, PC today. We offer a full array of estate planning services—including wills, trusts, and more—right here in Portland, OR.
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Our Estate Planning Primer will introduce you to the various estate planning tools, explain what they do, and help you gain familiarity with the terminology and process.