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Why You Need a Will

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If You're One of the 70% of Americans Without a Will, Read On

Do you have a will? Between half and two-thirds of American adults don't. Do you need one? Only if you answer yes to any of the questions below:

1. Do you care who gets your property if you die?
2. Do you care who gets your money if you die?
3. Do you care who is appointed guardian of your minor children if you die?

Who Needs A Will?

Wills are not just for the rich. Regardless of how much or how little money you have, a will ensures that whatever personal belongings and assets you do have will go to family or beneficiaries you designate. Without a will, the court makes these decisions.

If you have children, a will is a must, to ensure that you get to choose your children's guardian. Few people plan to die in the near future, but if you die suddenly without a will, you'll be subjecting your family and loved ones to confusion and anxiety at what is already a difficult time.

There are other benefits to having a will, including tax benefits.

Do You Need a Lawyer?

For most people, a will is easy to produce and can be prepared using legal software such as Quicken Willmaker Plus (Nolo Press, $50), which also helps you create a Living Will, Living Trust, Bypass Trust, Financial Power of Attorney and other legal forms. If you have a more complicated estate, or you're not comfortable using software for the more complicated documents, consult a lawyer.

How Do You Get Started?

At a minimum, a will should do the following: appoint a guardian if you have minor children, appoint an executor to administer your will when you die, and spell out specifically how you want your property distributed.

The first step in deciding how you want your property distributed is gathering information. You'll need the following:

Names, addresses, and birth dates for you, your spouse, your children, proposed guardians, and executor of your estate.

Amounts of all debts, including mortgages, car loans, student loans, business loans, and credit card accounts.

Copies of existing wills, trusts, divorce decrees, prenuptial agreements and any other legal documents that might affect a will.

A list of assets, including detailed information about the following:

  • Real estate
  • Savings (bank accounts, CDs, money markets)
  • Investments (stocks, bonds, mutual funds, CDs)
  • Life insurance policies
  • 401(k), IRA, pension/retirement accounts
  • Life insurance policies and annuities
  • Ownership interest in a business
  • Cars, boats, planes and other vehicles
  • Jewelry
  • Collectibles
  • Artwork
  • Antiques
  • Furniture
  • Other personal property

If you decide to do it yourself using software like Willmaker, sit down in front of your computer with all of the above information and in a few hours you can produce a will that is legal in your state. Be sure to follow the software's instructions on having your will signed and witnessed. If you feel more comfortable having a lawyer do it, you'll need to take the above information with you to your appointment.

The best of wills won't be any good if nobody knows how to find it. Make sure your family members and your executor know where your will is kept.

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