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Britt Erica Tunick is an award winning financial journalist who has spent the past 17 years writing about virtually every aspect of finance.

COVID Has Been a Wakeup Call Regarding the Importance of Wills

COVID Has Been a Wakeup Call Regarding the Importance of Wills

By Britt Erica Tunick

It would be nearly impossible to overemphasize the importance of having a will for individuals who have accumulated any sort of assets—particularly those with family members or other dependents who rely on them. And with the COVID-19 pandemic having reminded the world that life is finite and can be unexpectedly taken from any one of us at a moment’s notice, the importance of having one’s affairs in order, regardless of your age or the condition of your health, is more evident than ever before.

Despite this realization and the fact that 35 percent view having a will as more important after watching the pandemic play out over the past year, roughly two thirds of the population still don’t have a will or other important estate planning documents set up, according to the results of Caring.com’s 2021 Wills and Estate Planning Study. But the findings weren’t all bad. Oddly enough, the pandemic seems to have spurred younger adults to get their affairs in order more than their older peers, with 63 percent of young adults more likely to have put a will in place over the past year than they were before the pandemic. In fact, individuals between the ages of 18 and 34 years-old are actually 16 percent more likely to have a will in place than people within the 35 to 54 year-old age range.

The two main reasons cited by people who have yet to put wills or estate planning documents into place are: (i) not having found the time, at 34.2 percent; and (ii) not having enough assets to necessitate such documents, at 28.1 percent. When it comes to the costs of not having a will in place, the reality is that there is no excuse not doing so. Failing to put a will and important estate documents into place opens you to the possibility that your assets will not go to the individuals you would like to leave them to, and will instead go where the state deems that they should go, that your estate will be held up in probate, which is time consuming and costly, and that that your heirs will be more heavily taxed than they need to be.

Following are a few things to consider when it comes to putting together a will or basic estate planning documents:

  • You don’t need to hire a lawyer and pay an exorbitant amount of money to have a will created. There are online templates and kits that can be purchased that allow you to put together your own will for little to no money. While having an attorney is always the preferable route, a do-it-yourself will is legally binding and is enough to keep your estate out of probate. Just be sure to check whether or not the state you live in requires that a self-written will be notarized in order to be valid.
  • Make sure to familiarize yourself with the laws in the state where you reside regarding how your assets and property can legally be passed down and how marriage status plays into what you can and cannot do. Though an individual’s assets automatically pass to a spouse in many states, you are not legally required to leave everything to your spouse.
  • If you have a sizeable estate and do not have time to meet with an attorney soon, your best bet is to do a quick DIY will, but to follow up with an attorney when you are able to determine if you would benefit from things such as a family partnership or a trust to shield some of your assets from taxes and minimize the inheritance taxes your heirs might be hit with.
  • Consider instituting advanced healthcare directives regarding your end-of-life wishes and what should and should not be done to keep you alive in the event that you are mentally incapacitated or unable to speak for yourself.
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