Please read. Please. I would happily keep writing about kitchen makeovers, closet organizing, and pretty laundry rooms, but we need to have this heart-to-heart about our last wills, you and I.
After I’ve been feeling relatively untouched by the pandemic for months, four close friends and clients have all lost their loved ones just in the last two weeks. One asked if I knew where we had filed the wills. (I do.)
You’ve put off writing your last will for someday later, but someday is now.
First, the good news: nearly half of Americans over 55 have already made a will. YOU get a gold star.
Now, the bad news: over half of Americans don’t have a will. Many who do have a will haven’t updated it in years.
Prince famously died without a will, but you don’t have the excuse of being too busy winning Grammys to get it done.
There was a long-standing family joke that if my parents ever passed away, I’d go live on the farm with my Aunt Rhonda because my parents wrote their wills when I was about seven years old. This joke came up well into my 40’s, when they finally updated their wills. I wasn’t about to move to the farm in my 40’s. I am not a farm girl.
5 Things You Didn’t Know About Last Wills
- No, last wills are not just for old people. You can write one at age 18, although most of us do this in our thirties or later.
- State laws govern last wills. Write your wills using the laws where you live.
- Each person has their own will. Spouses write separate wills, so you don’t have to wait for him or her to get on board. (I wish I had known that earlier.)
- You don’t file your will with any government authority while you are alive. You just keep it in your household files.
- Wills are not sexy. OK, maybe you did know this. I searched Google, TikTok, and Instagram, and there’s no hip influencer out there making last wills any more fun.
My own husband fought me for years on making our wills because he wanted to bequeath his best friends some meaningful keepsakes, but he couldn’t decide what those might be. When we bought a house and started thinking about having kids, we finally met with a lawyer who explained that wills have little to do with the kinds of token gifts my husband was imagining. Last wills and testaments protect your family and assets from unnecessary taxes and financial burdens.
The week after COVID-19 shut down our schools in March 2020, we reviewed our wills. We also reached out to our children’s named guardians just to check if our worst-case plans were still appropriate.
Can you put your hands on your last will documents in 10 minutes or less? Does someone close to you know where to find them?
If you don’t want to think about the end of your life, I get it, but here’s the truth: “If you die without your affairs in order, you put your loved ones in a time-consuming, expensive, stressful process while they are already in mourning,” according to this Forbes article.
Stop Overthinking Your Last Will
If you have minor children and you don’t have a will, what are you waiting for???
Get your will done already with one of these resources.
Free Will Resources
Search online for “free will template (your state)” to get a document that you can fill out and use today. You don’t need a lawyer to write or file your will. Just start with a template in Word or Pages, modify it for your family, and get it notarized locally. You can even hand write it, if you must, and it will still be legal. Many banks and UPS stores have Notary Publics who will notarize your wills for about $10.
Low-cost Will Resources
Online legal resources like RocketLawyer.com and LegalZoom.com are very affordable, and may offer you the chance to speak with an attorney.
Professional Will Preparers
Talking with lawyers can seem scary, but many hometown lawyers are small business people, just like the ones who run your local restaurants. Believe it or not, most lawyers don’t work inside a courtroom. They meet with people just like you to write up contracts. A last will and testament is basically just a contract that explains your wishes. Don’t get freaked out by the legalese. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and make an appointment with a professional. You aren’t bothering them. Just like I LOVE to organize closets (so weird, right?), they love to help people make plans.
Write your last will. Get it notarized. File it. Let someone you trust know where your wills are, or ask them to keep a copy.
Yes, there are more things you should have in an organized home file system. You can see the whole list when you download a copy of Vital Records here.
Organized people have enforceable last wills filed at home. If you can’t quite get your kitchen or garage organized, try drafting your wills in just one afternoon. You’ll feel more accomplished, I promise.
Please don’t wait.
See all of my January 2021 organizing articles in one place.
This Post Has 6 Comments
Sad experience teaching me that you and your spouse should at least have written instructions for anything you each own separately, cars, mad money, pensions, with passwords, acct numbers and PINS written down.
I’m sorry you have gone through this, Kathy. Thanks for sharing these words of wisdom. We need to hear it a few times before most of us will heed the advice.
My husband died last March, just before the pandemic started getting a foothold. We had a Family Trust, wills, the works. I thought our attorneys had kept the originals of our wills, but they insisted that they do not do that. I did eventually find the originals which was good because apparently the original of my husband’s will had to be filed with the county – who kept it for their own files. This was the procedure in Nevada, I do not know if that is true in all states. My real problem is that we have an apartment in France, and they do not recognize Family Trusts. They consider it to be a company and want to charge corporate inheritance taxes. I think the attorneys have figured out how to have me inherit my husband’s half directly but ten months later it is still not settled.
Judith, I am sorry for your loss and the aggravation that has come after. Thanks for sharing your story. I’m sure it will help others to do what they can to prepare for the inevitable.
The link to the vital records list here doesn’t work. It takes me to a prior blog post that you wrote years ago, but the link on it that says vital records list, goes nowhere.
Thanks for reading, and thanks for letting me know. I’ll email you the document.
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