June 21, 2021
For many people, writing a will seems like a complex, daunting process. And while there’s no shortage of information available on the topic, not all of it is accurate. Despite what you may have heard, a will is an important estate planning tool, and all adults should have one. Below, FreeWill clears up ten common myths about writing a will, and provides tips to help you finish yours.
Myth 1: “I don’t own a lot, so I don’t need a will.”
Busted: Wills aren’t just for the rich and famous. There are many important reasons to have a will, and passing on your money and property is only one of them. With a will, you can choose guardians for your minor children, name caretakers for your beloved pets, write your funeral wishes, and more.
Myth 2: “My family knows my wishes, so I don’t need a will.”
Busted: Even if your family knows what you want — and they might know less than you think — they don’t get to make decisions for you if you die without a will. Instead, a court will make those decisions based on your state’s intestacy laws. Court proceedings can be long and cost your loved ones a lot of money from your estate. Not to mention, you might want your assets distributed differently than how the court would distribute them.
Myth 3: “My family will look after my kids if something happens to me.”
Busted: Choosing a guardian for your minor children is one of the most important things you can do in your will. Some people assume that if they pass away, their families will look after their children. But again, if you don’t have a will, your family doesn’t get to make this decision. Your family members can step up and offer to take custody of your children, but ultimately, the court will decide who’s most fit to be their guardian. And who volunteers (and is chosen) could be different from the person you would have picked, had you chosen the guardian yourself.
Myth 4: “I need a lawyer to write a will.”
Busted: If you have a complex family or financial situation, you might benefit from hiring an attorney to help you draft your will. But if you’re like the majority of Americans, you could also write your own will. As long as you follow the proper guidelines, a do-it-yourself will is just as valid as one prepared by a lawyer.
Myth 5: “Writing a will is expensive and time-consuming.”
Busted: This often goes hand-in-hand with the point above. When it comes to writing a will, many people picture long, expensive meetings in an attorney’s office and decide to put it off until another day. But with today’s technology, it’s easier than ever to access high-quality will templates and forms that help you quickly and accurately write your will. There are several low-cost or free options on the market, including FreeWill, that can help you create your will in less time than an episode of your favorite Netflix show.
Myth 6: “I need to notarize my will and file it at the courthouse for it to be legal.”
Busted: It may seem like a document as important as your will couldn’t be legal unless these steps are taken. But the truth is that, generally, neither of these are necessary to make your will valid.
Currently, Louisiana is the only state that requires you to notarize your will. All other states only need the will-writer’s signature and the signatures of at least two witnesses. If you want, you can use a notary to make your will self-proving, but that’s completely optional.
You also don’t have to file your will at the courthouse for it to be valid — it’s just an optional step that safeguards your will and starts the probate process more quickly. If you don’t wish to file your will with the court, you can keep it in a safe place — like a safe deposit box or fireproof safe — and let your loved ones know where it’s at. When you pass away, someone (usually your will executor) locates your will and files it with the court to begin the probate process.
Myth 7: “It doesn’t matter if I have a will, because no one will follow it.”
Busted: Some people believe that, even if they have a will, their families or the court will disregard it and do whatever they please. But if you have a valid will, your lawful wishes must be followed to the greatest extent possible. That’s the law.
There are some circumstances when your wishes might not be followed, but these can usually be avoided with proper planning. For example, your will might not be followed if:
Myth 8: “I’m too young to need a will.”
Busted: It’s never too early to have a will! If you’re older than 18, it’s a good idea to have one, especially if you own property, pets, or have children. None of us can predict the future, and we don’t know how long our lives will be. Having a will can give you the peace of mind that, no matter what happens, you’ve put your affairs in order and protected your loved ones.
Myth 9: “I already have a will, so I don’t have to think about it anymore.”
Busted: Having a will is a great first step — but it’s only useful to you and your loved ones if you keep it up-to-date. Your circumstances, relationships, and wealth will likely change many times over the course of your life. Estate attorneys recommend updating your will every three to five years, or whenever you have a major life event (like getting married or divorced, moving states, or having children).
For example, say you once planned to leave some cash to a young relative, but they’ve since grown up and don’t need financial support anymore. Or maybe there’s a cause that’s grown close to your heart, and you want to add a charity as a beneficiary in your will. By updating your will, you make sure it always reflects your most current wishes.
Myth 10: “My debts go away when I die.”
Busted: Unfortunately, your debts don’t disappear when you pass away. Instead, they’ll be paid with the funds from your estate. If your estate doesn’t have enough cash to cover your debts, it’s possible some of your assets may be sold for cash to pay back creditors.
If you have a will, you can choose which assets you want to be used to pay your debts, and in which order. If you don’t have a will, it’s up to your executor and the court to decide which of your assets to sell to cover your debts.
Confronting our mortality can sometimes be uncomfortable. But creating a will is one of the kindest things you can do for your family. By putting your affairs in order, you can prevent stress and provide for the people and causes you love.
There are many different ways to write your will, and using an online template is a popular option. You can use an online will-maker like FreeWill to fill out your free, legally-valid will forms in less than 20 minutes. Just answer a few questions about yourself, your estate, and your wishes, and our will-making tool provides you with your forms and instructions for how to make your will valid in the state where you live.
If you live in the state of California, you may choose to set up a revocable living trust instead.
One last thing: If you have a more complicated situation, like a large estate, difficult family dynamics, or need to provide for a special needs child, it could be a good idea to work with an estate attorney. They can help you create an estate plan that’s the best fit for you and the people and causes you love.
Ready to get started? Create your free will or trust with FreeWill today.
If you are interested in legacy and planned giving, please contact Major Gifts Officer Sofía Larkin at the Catholic Foundation at (915) 872-8412.