Who needs a will? “Well, any adult who might die [does],” says FPA member and CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ (CFP®) professional Leon C. LaBrecque of Sequoia Financial Group in Troy, Mich. “I know that sounds tongue-in-cheek, but…the stark facts are, almost everyone needs a will.”
A will is a legal document (or set of documents) that details a person’s (or a couple’s) intentions regarding the handling of their dependents (such as children, if they have any), their assets, and other loose ends, upon their death. Without a legally sound will to explicitly state these intentions, vitally important decisions about the disposition of assets, guardianship of dependents/children and the like typically default to a state probate court, where they end up in the hands of a judge who, for better or for worse, must interpret the deceased person’s intentions.
“If you don’t have a will, your [home] state basically will have one for you,” explains FPA member Luis F. Rosa, CFP® of Build a Better Financial Future in Las Vegas, Nev. “That judge could make decisions that don’t necessarily align with your wishes.”
For many, that’s a less-than-optimal outcome that easily could have been avoided had they invested the relatively modest amount of effort and money required to get a will. However, despite the prospect of losing control over the fate of their children or their hard-earned money when they die, a will is something a vast majority of American adults need but only a minority actually have. According to a 2017 survey by Caring.com, roughly four in 10 American adults have a will or living trust. The likelihood a person has a will increases with their age, as just 22 percent of Millennials have one, compared to 36 percent of Generation Xers, 58 percent of Baby Boomers and 81 percent of people age 72 and over.
Why don’t adults who need a will not have one? An unwillingness to contemplate one’s own mortality is one deterrent, according to Rosa. What’s more, getting a will just isn’t a priority for younger people, who tend to view their death as too remote a possibility to plan for now. And as Rosa points out, “Often people think that they need to be wealthy to have a will. The truth is that wills do not only cover monetary things.”
The more you know about what getting a will entails, the less daunting the process becomes. Here’s a quick FAQ to shed light on this necessary but oft-avoided aspect of financial planning.