I have put off writing a will for way too long. Writing a will isn’t hard and in this post I’ll outline how the healthcare professional can construct their will. The proper term is either final will & testament. Let’s also talk about what a will can and cannot do. I’ll also review a few related terms.
The purpose of a will is to:
- distribute your properties/assets (your estate) upon your death (includes pets)
- name an executor (to carry out your wishes)
- manage outstanding debt/taxes
- name guardian of minor children
What a will cannot do for you:
- establish long-term care for a loved one
- make funeral or memorial service arrangement
- avoid the pain-in-the-ass probate process
- supersede a beneficiary you’ve assigned in your 401k, IRA, etc.
Similar Terms which aren’t similar at all
When someone says “will”, they mean a final will. There are other terms which I’ll review below because they are relevant.
Final Will – Only relevant upon your death. When you hear the term will, this is what it refers to. It’s also sometimes called final will & testament or simply final testament. If you croak without a will then you are considered “intestate” and so intestacy laws of your state will apply.
Living Will – Only activated upon your incapacitation (not death). A living will is an advanced directive. If you become incapacitated then this document will dictate your medical care. In this document you can assign a power of attorney.
Living Trust – This refers to a revocable living trust which serves the purpose to avoid the lengthy, tedious, costly process of probate court. You assign a trustee who can distribute your shit according to what you outlined. This will get handled without any involvement from the probate courts.
What Happens When You Die?
The good news is that most of us die expectedly. Meaning, we have an idea we’re going to die due to illness. However, it’s a nightmare for the dependents of a person who dies unexpectedly.
Upon your death someone will be stuck with the funeral arrangements. Your assets will then go to probate. Probate is unavoidable whether you have a will or you don’t have a will. It can be either a lengthy process or quite simple (depending on your will). Probate handles the following:
- validate your will (if you have one)
- identify and validate the executor who is named in the will
- publish a notice to potential creditors in a local newspaper
- prepare a property/asset inventory
- pay off outstanding debts
- settle taxes
If Your Die with a Will
In the ideal world, hopefully you have a will and have named an executor. This person then finds out that you have died and uncovers your will. Then files the paperwork with the probate court of their state or hires a lawyer to handle all of it.
A will is not effective on its own and must be submitted to a court to go through the probate process. Once all the above steps have been accomplished, the beneficiaries in the will can claim their goodies.
If you die with nothing or have more debts than assets, then the executor whom you named can choose to do nothing. There is no legal obligation to submit the will document to the probate courts. Instead, things can take their course and the creditors can file their claims with the courts.
If You Die Without a Will
Let’s say you are found dead in your condo after a botched autoerotic asphyxiation. Your next of kin is contacted to accept the body and make funeral arrangements.
Arrangements are made with the funeral home and fees paid for the funeral and cemetery fees. After this, the funeral home contacts social security to report your death and order the death certificate.
If beneficiaries are assigned to bank accounts and retirement accounts, then these individuals will obtain their portion according to those documents. Even a will couldn’t supercede assigned beneficiaries.
Intestate succession laws are followed by your state to disperse your estate (assets/properties) to your next of kin. Here is how the Oregon law, this is how your estate is distributed depending on who survives you:
Writing A Will
The consensus is that if your situation is relatively simple then you can handle writing your own will. For more complicated situations you should consider having your lawyer draft the will and possibly consider a living trust.
Your state’s website should have basic will requirements but I did an exhaustive search and couldn’t find it. Conveniently, the 2 big names in helping you be your own lawyer, Nolo and Legalzoom, had this information readily available.
8 Main Sections To Include
Section 1: Identify yourself
Section 2: Claim the document as your will and claim all previous will’s as void.
Section 3: Pronounce yourself as mentally capable of making decisions for yourself.
Section 4: State that you weren’t forced into writing this will.
Section 5: Name all relevant next of kin.
Section 6: Appoint a primary executor. And appoint a backup in case the first dies or refuses to be your executor.
Section 7: Announce who gets what and have a backup decision in case someone dies or refuses your distribution.
Section 8: Choose a guardian for minors.
- sign your will
- have witnesses witness your signature
- give copies of will to your executor
- make changes to will as life circumstances change
Lawyer Or No Lawyer
If your situation is complicated or you are wanting to cut out your next of kin then it’s recommended that you get a lawyer. Their fees will generally be in the $500 range. Rarely will it be anything over $1,500. You will get a questionnaire to fill out and they will handle everything else.
If you have a substantial amount of assets, specifically anything past $5.49 million, then it’s better to hire a lawyer with estate planning skills to figure your situation out.
To skip the probate process altogether, you will need a living trust. This kind of revocable trust needs to be put together by a lawyer who may also become the trustee (act out its contents) of the trust.
Online Will-Writing Companies
Why an online will? Because the advantage is that all the wording will be handled for you. Also, the specifics for your state will be included which is important. Finally, you can make revisions whenever needed without having to do the whole thing all over again.
Writing a will online seems to be dominated by 3 players.
I have used Nolo products before and I’m a loyal customer. They have a single price-point of $60. For this you get to revise your will as often as you need to.
I have used LG for previous projects and I can’t say I’m a fan though they have never been dishonest. Their website lists 3 price-points starting at $70. On top of this, they have options for a monthly subscription. Frankly, for a document that you only need to do once or twice in your life, why the fuck pay an ongoing monthly fee?
Doyourownwill is a website that advertises free will’s. They state that they earn their income through advertising. This might be a good place to start, that way you have an idea of all the facts you’ll need to gather to create your will.
My Personal To-Do list:
- choose a primary and secondary executor
- create my final will through Nolo
- create a living will through doyourownwill
- get witnesses to witness me signing my documents