Having a will is one of the most valuable things you can do for yourself and your loved ones. Not only can a will legally protect your spouse, children, and assets, it can also explain precisely how you want things handled after you have passed on.

Every person has a different situation, but in general here are the top ten reasons to have a will.

1) You get to decide how your estate will be dispersed. A will is a legally binding document that allows you to determine how you would like your estate to be handled upon your death. If you don’t have a will, there is no guarantee that your intended desires will be carried out after you pass. Having a will determines the “who, what, and when” of your estate. It can also minimize any family fights about your estate that may arise occur if there is no will.

2) To avoid a lengthy probate process. Contrary to common belief, all estates must go through the probate process, with or without a will. Having a will, however, speeds up the probate process and informs the court how you’d like your estate divided. Probate courts serve the purpose of “administering your estate”, and when you die without a will (known as dying “intestate”), the court will decide how to divide estate without your input, which can also cause long, unnecessary delays.

3) You get to decide who will take care of your children. Absent a will, a court will choose among family members or a state-appointed guardian to look after your minor child. A will allows you to appoint the person you want or, better, make sure it is not someone you do not want to raise your children.

4) Lower your taxes. Having a will allows you to minimize your estate taxes. The amount you give away to your family or charity will reduce the value of your estate when it’s time to pay estate taxes.

5) You get to pick who will take care of the affairs of your estate. The person you select, the Executor, will make sure all your affairs are in order, including paying off bills, canceling your credit cards, and notifying the bank and other business establishments. Because executors play the biggest role in the administration of your estate, you’ll want to be sure to appoint someone who is organized, trustworthy, and honest (this does not have to be a family member).

6) Avoid larger legal challenges. If you die without a will, part or all of your estate may pass to someone you did not intend. This could lead to other members of your family contesting the inheritance. The best way to avoid this is having a will that lays out exactly who will get what from your estate.

7) Wills are not permanent when you make them and can be changed. You can change your mind if your life circumstances change. A good reason for having a will is that you can change it at any time while you’re still alive. Life changes and with a will, you can react to those changes how you see most appropriate.

8) You can disinherit individuals who would otherwise inherit some of your possessions. Most people do not realize they can disinherit individuals out of their will. Because wills specifically outline how you would like your estate distributed, without a will your estate may end up on the wrong hands or in the hands of someone you did not intend (such as an ex-spouse with whom you had a bitter divorce).

9) Make donations and gifts. The ability to make donations is a good reason to have a will because it allows your legacy to live on and reflect your personal values and interests. In addition, gifts up to $13,000 are excluded from estate tax, so you’re also increasing the value of your estate for your heirs and beneficiaries to enjoy. Be sure to talk with an attorney about the current laws to learn the most up-to-date gift tax exclusions.

10) Because tomorrow is not promised. Procrastination and the unwillingness to accept death as part of life are common reasons for not having a will. Sometimes the realization that wills are necessary comes too late – such as when an unexpected disability occurs. To avoid the added stress on families during an already emotional time, it would be wise to meet with an estate planning lawyer to help you draw up a basic estate plan at the minimum, before it’s too late.

There are lots of reasons to have a will, but we know it can be overwhelming to draft one. Let us help you put your mind at ease by helping you draft your will the way you want it. Give us a call at (602) 687-5851 or visit us at hpslawgroup.com