Last Will & Testament: The One Legal Document Everyone Absolutely, Positively Needs by Reiko Joseph

Last Will & Testament: The One Legal Document Everyone Absolutely, Positively Needs

There are lots of reasons everyone should make a will. Here are just a few.

by Reiko Joseph
updated October 19, 2020 ·  4min read

It comes as no surprise that over 70% of Americans don't have a last will and testament. Most people aren't eager to draft any legal document, let alone one that deals with life's biggest certainty. But it's a lot easier than people realize. And the peace of mind — especially for parents with young children — is well worth the time.

Why You Need a Last Will and Testament

In a nutshell, a last will and testament ensures that your wishes are honored. These include life-impacting decisions about who receives your property and who raises your young children. Most people don't realize that without a last will, the government will make these critical decisions for you. Here are some of the top reasons to create a last will as soon as possible.

Have a Say In How Your Children Are Raised

If you're a parent with young children, it is absolutely essential that you keep an up-to-date last will and testament. The reason is simple. You should have a say in who raises your children in your absence. Not the courts. Not state law.

If you want your child raised in a certain place, with people who share your values, you need to indicate this in your last will.

You simply can't assume the courts will place your children with the guardian of your choice. Keeping your will updated (ideally after the birth of each new child) will also help prevent ugly custody battles between family members.

Ensure Your Property Goes to the People You Love

You may not think you have enough property to warrant writing a will, but if you own anything of value—sentimental, symbolic, or otherwise — you should list it in a will. This is your opportunity to show your loved ones you care and are thinking about them. If you do happen to own property of significant monetary value, indicating how it should be divided will reduce the possibility of confusion or family conflict down the road.

Continue Caring for Your Pets After You're Gone

Don't assume the people closest to you will automatically care for your pets in your absence. Without specifically naming a pet guardian in your will or setting aside funds for your pet's care, Fluffy or Fido may face an uncertain future. Animal shelters are crowded with pets orphaned by their caring but unprepared owners.

Give More to Loved Ones and Less to the Government

All wills are subject to probate court, the legal system through which your debts are settled, and any remaining property is distributed to your heirs. In the absence of a last will, the courts will appoint a court administrator to settle your affairs, which can eat up to 10% of your estate's value.

It also means your property will be tied up much longer—up to 3 years in some cases. For dependents, this can be an extremely long difficult wait and potentially a financial burden to them if there are no allocated funds to pay for funeral costs and other expenses.

Select the Playlist for Your Own Funeral

One of the great things about a last will is that you can outline specific wishes for your funeral. Prefer jazz to organ music? Specify it in your last will. Don't like pink carnations? Indicate what kinds of flowers you'd like displayed at your funeral. Don't want to be buried in a cemetery? Leave detailed instructions for cremation or a burial at sea. You can also have the final word. The testament portion of your last will gives you an opportunity to say what's on your mind — for all eternity.

Leave Money to a Cause You Care About

One of the best ways to support a good cause is to donate to it in your last will. It's a great way to leave a lasting, positive impact on the world.

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About the Author

Reiko Joseph

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This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of the author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.