Between one half and two thirds of American adults do not have wills. Many people mistakenly think they don’t need a will if they are young or don’t have a large estate. In fact, most adults should have a will in place regardless of their age or financial situation. In addition, many would also benefit from having a financial power of attorney, medical power of attorney and a living will. Already have these in place? You’re not off the hook yet. You should review these documents at least every three years, or upon life events such as marriage, divorce, or birth of a child, to make sure they are up-to-date and accurate. Need more convincing?
Here are four reasons why a will and powers of attorney are a must.
1. You need a plan for your family.
If you have minors in your custody, a will is crucial. Even if you think you’ve made it clear who will gain custody of your children should you and/or your spouse die unexpectedly, you must have a document designating a legal guardian to ensure those wishes are carried out. A will or trust will set forth how you want your assets distributed should you pass away. Do you have a life insurance or other death benefit policy? It may have been years since you filled out those forms so it’s a good idea to look and see who you have designated as beneficiary.
2. You need someone to take care of your finances.
A financial power of attorney will allow someone else to make financial decisions on your behalf while you are living, but physically or mentally unable to do so. Upon death, your will names an executor, which means a person you trust, who will be responsible to administer your estate. If these decisions are not made in advance, these designations could be left to a court to decide.
3. You need to make your health-related wishes known.
What would happen if you were to become incapacitated or put on life support? A living will sets forth the medical treatment you desire, beyond food and pain management, if you have a chronic, incurable condition which is likely to end your life within a short period of time. A power of attorney for medical decisions designates a person you trust to speak with your doctors and make medical decisions on your behalf if you are physically or mentally unable to do so. Having these documents completed ahead of time, and discussing your wishes with your loved ones, will ensure you are cared for according to your wishes instead of leaving these decisions in the hands of your doctors or the courts. In addition, having this guidance from you is often a big relief to loved ones at such a stressful time.
4. You need to take care of your business.
If you are a business owner, a will or trust helps protect your company, employees and business partners. Your business should also have a succession plan. If you were to pass away or become incapacitated without the proper documents in place, control of your business may be turned over to partners or family members who do not share your vision.
Life is full of the unexpected. None of us plans to die or become incapacitated in the near future, but it could happen to any of us at any time. Make sure you, your family and your business are protected by talking to an attorney specializing in wills and trust who can help you build a plan and create peace of mind.