The reading of the will, as seen on TV: family and friends gather in the lawyer’s office. The family attorney opens the envelope and clears his throat. The room goes silent in a instant with anticipation of what’s to come. As the reading progresses, a mix of emotions and expressions fill the room: elation, joy, anguish, anger, sadness, crying, and the breaking of relationships.
I remember talking with a client as she was navigating the complex and convoluted process of settling her mother’s estate after she passed without leaving a will. The time, the difficulties, and heartache of trying to divide up her possessions without severing the fragile family ties was how my client was forced to remember her mother initially, instead of reflecting on all the good memories.
Writing a will isn’t always easy; to do so acknowledges that you are mortal, that you may loose your loved ones, and that you are not guaranteed tomorrow. But to do so, to do the hard thing now, is a huge act of love to those who may be left behind.
Here are 5 ways that creating a will is an act of love towards your family:
- YOU decide who gets what. You are not putting the burden of divvying up your possessions on your executor (legal name for the one who settles your estate). It is likely that you will have family heirlooms, some wealth, and items that hold sentimental value to your family. I’m sure you know someone or have heard of someone who experienced a family fall out because someone didn’t get dad’s tie collection. Communicate your desires ahead of time, so everyone knows where they stand, and why, long before you pass on. Don’t put that burden on your survivors.
- More of your estate stays out of probate. Probate is the court that settles wills, but probate is VERY expensive and going through it can be very time intensive. Don’t make your loved ones have to deal with grieving for you AND dealing with the legal system at the same time. You will also allow more of your hard earned assets to pass to your kin vice the state.
- You get to choose who becomes guardians for your minor children. Before you write your will, talk with your spouse (warning, it can be a VERY emotional discussion) and come to an agreement on who you want to raise your kids should you both pass on. Then ask the proposed guardians (in person!!! not over text or Facebook!!!!); explain why you chose them. Then talk to anyone else who might think they would be the guardians and explain why you chose someone else. It’s a VERY hard discussion, but it must be done to ensure there is peace in your remaining family. And do you really want the state to decide who gets your kids? Me either!
- It can allow all your possessions to pass to your spouse seamlessly should you predecease him/her. You don’t want your spouse to have to deal with the courts when she should be grieving. Don’t add stress to an already difficult situation.
- If you have a blended family, it sets up the expectations ahead of time. Deciding how to divide assets between a spouse and child won’t be easy, but don’t make them duke it out after you are gone; be an adult and allow them to challenge you while you are still around to explain and/or make changes.
Now, once you have your will (or wills, if married) complete, discuss the contents with all who are affected. Don’t allow the drama of TV to take place, deal with your decisions now!
If you have a relatively small and simple estate, you can do your own will, but if you have some wealth, seek out the advice of a quality estate planning attorney.
There are other ways that a will demonstrates love, how would you feel loved by your spouse/parent/grandparent having a will?