Preparing for your death can be an expensive proposition. You could leave it up to chance, but without an adequate will, everything you’ve worked for in life could go to the last people you want to see with it. Your loved ones could be left with no resources to help them survive after you’re gone. So, making a will is essential if you want to have any say about the final disposition of your assets. More importantly, you need to have a will to pass on your responsibilities the way you choose.
Lawyers charge big bucks for making a simple will. It’s tempting to do it yourself with one of those nifty online will kits you can easily find on the Internet by running a simple Google search. But it you think that’s a harmless way to save some cash, think again. These online will websites or software products miss the mark, especially if your situation isn’t absolutely simple and straightforward. Here are the top reasons why you should forget about making a will online and choose a legal professional instead.
1. Your love relationship has ended.
Generally speaking, your ex won’t inherit anything from you unless you specify it in your will. But, without a legal expert on your side, you won’t know whether your past relationship could be a problem or not – even if it was a spur-of-the-moment fling.
If you’re separated or divorced from your long-time spouse or life partner, the legal situation after you die can get messy. You may want them to get nothing. To accomplish that, you need a lawyer to craft the will with language that clearly states why your former partner or spouse is not a beneficiary.
If you are separated, divorced or in the process of getting a divorce, your lawyer will want to know specific details about the relationship such as when it started and ended. You’ll also need to give your lawyer a description and dates of any legal proceedings between you and your ex, as well as any court orders or other documents relating to the breakup.
2. You have a child or children from a previous relationship.
By law, you are expected to take care of your child dependents. This is no less true after you die than it is while you’re still living. If you don’t provide for their maintenance and support, your will probably won’t be carried out as you’ve written it.
Your will also needs to specify what would happen to your children if you were the only surviving parent. Even if you update your will yearly, something could happen to their other parent between the time you make a new will and the time you yourself die. To ensure your children don’t get placed with a random guardian, you need to address this possibility in your will.
Regardless of how common it is to have children from a previous relationship, online will kits aren’t designed to properly address these issues. A lawyer, though, can help you set up those provisions so they will be considered adequate by the court. Your lawyer will want to know your child’s age, who they live with, who spends time with them, whether either parent is paying child support, and what if any court orders have been made regarding the child.
3. You have a child who needs an enduring guardian.
If you have a child who needs special accommodations for a disability or long-term medical condition, you will want to make sure they have everything they need to survive and thrive throughout their life. The law also expects you to make these provisions. If you don’t choose how to set up the services your child needs, the court will decide for you in probate.
If your child needs enduring guardianship, it’s important to choose that person carefully and name a back-up guardian who would step in if your first choice is not available. You also need to include details about what medical treatments they need, what special services they will need, whether they need special housing, and how you want them to be cared for if you’re no longer there to do it yourself. Your lawyer can create a will that adequately provides for your special needs child for the rest of their life.
4. You don’t want to give expected portions of your estate to your spouse, child or other relatives.
Estates that end up in probate are divvied up in specific ways. Depending on the law where you live, that may mean your spouse and children would get the bulk of your estate. But, what if you don’t want them to? What if you want to leave your spouse less than the customary portion?
You might want your spouse to get less if you’re estranged or even just if your spouse has adequate resources of their own without a portion of your estate. More distant relatives with whom you have no relationship at all may also stand to inherit when you die without a will. If you don’t want them to, you need to have a lawyer include that in your will. Your lawyer may need to know why the relationship broke down, how it happened, whether you tried to reconcile with the person, and whether you’ve ever supported them financially.
5. You’ve chosen an heir that suffers from an addiction.
Your heart may go out to a loved one who suffers from an addiction. You want to see them have a good life, but you have no control over what they do. A will doesn’t fix that, but it can help you provide for them in a more lasting way than they could do by themselves. A lawyer can help you establish a trust and appoint trustees who can ensure your money is given out slowly rather than in one lump sum the person might use to feed their addiction.
6. You’re owner or part owner of a business.
Even the smallest business can be difficult to deal with after its owner dies. Businesses are complex by nature, and no one-stop internet will is going to address all the issues involved with passing the business or its assets on to your heirs.
When you meet with your lawyer to discuss your will, bring along evidence of how your business is structured. Your lawyer will need to know about the interests of any shareholders as well as your spouse, children, or anyone else who isn’t a partner in your business but deserves some or all of its assets.
Your lawyer will want to see three years of financial statements from your business, including balance sheets and profit and loss statements. Bring along your business plan so your lawyer can get a clear idea of your role in the company and what would happen to it without you. It’s also a good idea to create or update a succession plan for your business at the same time you make your will. If you’re using a trust to minimize taxation, you also need to bring details about that trust.
7. You have any special funds, such as a self-managed super fund, or a family trust.
Super funds can be extremely complex retirement funds to manage. Even if you’re one of the many business owners who have set up a superannuation fund to provide retirement pensions to employees, you may not fully understand how they work. Family trusts can be the same way, especially if family members don’t have a background in business or accounting.
Your lawyer will need to know the details of these kinds of funds or trusts to help you create a will that deals with them adequately. If possible, talk to the accountant or financial advisor that originally helped you set up the super fund or family trust. If that person is no longer available, consult with your current financial professional. Either way, they can give you all the details your lawyer needs to help you address these funds in your will.
8. You want some or all your assets to go to charities or other organizations.
If you’re deeply involved in working with your favorite charity, you may want to leave some of your assets to that organization in your will. Perhaps the charity helped you years ago, before you achieved your current financial success. Or, maybe you just think what the charity is doing is a good idea and a great way to enhance your community. You might want to donate to a school or club instead, especially if they have been a part of your life or the lives of your loved ones.
No matter what your reasoning for choosing them, you can ensure that your favorite organization gets something from you after you pass away. But here’s the thing about that: it takes a legal professional to make sure the wording is precisely accurate in your will so that they can receive the portion of your estate you want to give them.
Now, while you may want to leave all of your assets to this organization, you may have other obligations you have to meet first. An online will can’t look at the big picture to see how the responsibilities you have to others affects the donations you want to make. And, if you don’t meet these obligations, there’s a good chance your will is going to be contested. So, it’s important to work with a lawyer if you have your heart set on leaving anything to an organization.
9. You may have assets beyond what you list in the will.
When you have a very large estate, it can be easy to leave out assets when you draft your will. Even if you have a modest-sized estate, you may have assets you don’t realize are valuable or become valuable after you pass.
So, what happens if an asset isn’t mentioned in the will? That asset would be split up by the court in the customary way. You can decide for yourself how these assets will be distributed even if you don’t know right now what they are. Your lawyer can include information in your will about who will inherit your Residuary Estate when all other assets and liabilities have been dealt with.
10. You need help choosing a personal representative or guardian.
An online will gives you little if any guidance about how to choose the people who will carry out the terms of your will. A lawyer won’t choose a personal representative or guardian for you when you make your will, either. But, what they can do is talk it over with you and give you a better idea of what to consider when you make that choice. They can also help you determine if the person you want to choose meets the legal requirements for doing the job you’re about to assign them.
Making a will is serious business. It has to be legally correct and formally worded. It has to be signed and witnessed according to law. And, it has to take into account all the circumstances that make up your financial life and family relationships. To manage all these factors and still leave your estate to those you want to have it, your best option is to forego the cheap, easy method of using an online will kit. It may seem like an attractive option, but in many cases, it’s worse than having no will at all.