Estate Planning FAQs

When I die, everything will automatically go to my family anyway, right?

That depends. If you don’t have will, state law will dictate who inherits your property. Usually, your current spouse and children will inherit, but the state law prescribes what percent of your estate goes to your spouse and what percent goes to your children. You may wish to provide otherwise. Also, if you have young children and something happens to both you and your spouse, state law will be involved in choosing who will have custody of your children. Most parents prefer to choose the person or couple who will care for and bring up their children in such an event. Writing your will is the way to choose the guardians for your children and to provide how much of your estate goes to whom.

For unmarried people, it is especially important to write a will. When there are unmarried partners, even the state law does not provide that the surviving partner inherits your property. In most cases, the only way you can pass property to someone you care for but to whom you are not married is through your will.

I don’t need a will, I’m not rich enough.

Even the not-rich have some assets, and if you have children, it is essential to have a will so that you may provide who will care for and bring up your children if you die. And most people own some kind of property — a house, car, furniture, jewelry, art, collectibles. Some of these may be family heirlooms, even if they aren’t worth a lot of money, and you would want to specify to whom those items should be given. It is also kinder to your family and loved ones to leave instructions, through a Will, Living Will, Advance Health Care Directive, and Durable Power of Attorney, so that if an emergency comes up, whether you are seriously ill or die, they will know what your wishes would be.

I don’t like these morbid topics.

Most of us don’t like to contemplate our death or serious illness. Unfortunately, once an emergency happens, it’s usually too late to do much planning. Families and loved ones have enough to cope with in an emergency without also having to wonder what is supposed to happen or what you would have wanted to happen. You can gain your own peace of mind as well as taking good care of your family and loved ones by having a Will, Living Will, Advance Health Care Directive, and Durable Power of Attorney. It’s also a good idea to make a list of your important documents, your bank and investment accounts, and your professional advisors (accountant, broker, doctors, lawyers, etc.), so that your loved ones will know whom to call on your behalf.

What information should I have to start planning a will?

You will need the full names, addresses, ages and social security numbers of your spouse and children and others to whom you want to leave something, a list of your assets, any special facts that would affect your planning. You may want to use a checklist to help you gather the information.