You’ve probably heard that nothing is certain in life except for death and taxes. As it turns out, many people would rather face their taxes than their mortality. According to one study, the majority of Americans don’t have a will — which means there are plenty of people who don’t plan to make one or are putting it off.
Why make a will? For answers, we turned to Pacific University Trustee Matthew Lowe, an attorney with Jordan Ramis PC in Portland, Ore.
Express Your Wishes
If you die without a valid will, a probate court decides how to distribute what you own to your heirs and who gets custody of your minor children. Few people would want to leave such important decisions in the hands of strangers.
“A will is a means of expressing your desired distribution of your estate,” said Lowe, whose practice areas include estate planning.
“If you die without a will, your estate will be distributed pursuant to the laws of intestate succession, and that may not be consistent with your wishes,” he added.
Before sitting down to make a will, you should think through a number of issues.
Who Will Be the Executor of Your Will?
An executor is legally responsible for taking care of a deceased person’s remaining financial obligations. An executor may have to sell property, pay bills and taxes, and ensure that what remains in an estate is properly distributed to heirs.
If you have minor children, one of the most important decisions you’ll need to make is naming a guardian (or guardians) for your kids in your will. If you die before designating a guardian for your children under the age of 18, a court will decide who will care for them.
Give It Away
Do you have a favorite charity or cause to which you’d like to leave money or assets? If so, you can make provisions for that in your will. You can even support Pacific with your estate plans! Learn more at pacificu.edu/PlannedGiving
Many people hire an attorney to help them make a will, but, if your assets and bequests are simple and straightforward, you may want to consider an online platform, like Legal Zoom, which is often more cost-effective.
After making a will, you’ll want to revisit it periodically, especially as your personal or financial circumstances change.
“Every five years, look at where you are and what’s in your will. If your will is still consistent with your wishes, then it’s probably fine. Otherwise, you should make a change,” Lowe said.
“Ideally, have your lawyer review your will as well, in case any laws have changed. The core idea is to ensure that your wishes are honored and that your family is taken care of in the way that you intend.”
Lowe presented “Everybody Needs a Will” as a resource for alumni last fall. Next Up: Business professor Laura McNally shares how to make a budget Feb. 3.