Whenever a public figure dies without a will, there’s always a sudden surge of interest around the topic of wills and estate planning.
Such is the case with the late Aretha Franklin. While many are still processing her death, we’re now learning that the Queen of Soul died “intestate” — meaning she did not have a will.
Under Michigan state law, the late singer’s four sons will divide her estate, according to The Detroit Free Press. However, Franklin’s niece has also petitioned the court to be appointed as a personal representative of the estate.
In the absence of a will, there’s enough wiggle room for other extended family and creditors to battle it out in court over Franklin’s estimated $80 million estate. Should a court battle ensue, details of the very private singer’s life and finances will likely be made public.
Of course, your estate may be considerably smaller than Aretha’s, but that shouldn’t stop you from doing a will.
If you have children, you need a will for the simple fact that if you don’t have one, the state would decide who raises your kids if something were to happen to you.
If there’s no document with written directive from you, that’s just how it goes.
If you don’t have kids but you are married — and don’t have a will in place — the state would decide how your money is allocated if something were to happen to you.
The same holds true if you and a partner are living together and aren’t married. In many cases, your partner will not be considered to inherit your estate unless you put it in writing.
Will planning is too often overlooked
There are several key elements to consider when you’re planning for retirement and your future in general — living costs, where you may want to live, debts to pay off, etc.
But while it’s crucial to keep track of your savings goals and your plans for life after work, most people get so focused on whether they’re saving enough that they overlook one of the most important aspects of financial planning: creating a will or living trust.
If you haven’t planned out this part of your financial life, you aren’t alone.
A new study found that 58% of adults say they don’t have a will in place. On top of that, 64% of parents with kids under the age of 18 have no formal estate plan at all.
If you don’t have children and have very little in the way of assets, that may be OK for you. But in pretty much any other situation, having a will is critical.
Common myths about wills debunked
Won’t my spouse automatically get everything I have?
One of the biggest misconceptions that causes people to ignore putting a will in place is this assumption: “Won’t my spouse automatically get everything I have?”
No. It doesn’t always work like that — and it actually depends on the type of assets you leave behind and the laws in your state.
When you die without a will (intestate) to the legal types, the state decides who gets what.
For example, below is how it works in Georgia, money expert Clark Howard’s home state. This is a quote from Nolo.com, which in addition to offering will preparation is a great free resource for all things legal:
“In Georgia, if you are married and you die without a will, what your spouse gets depends on whether or not you have living descendants — children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren. If you don’t, then your spouse inherits all of your intestate property. If you do, they and your spouse will share your intestate property equally, except that your spouse’s share cannot be less than 1/3.”
Of course, the specifics are different in every state. But in general, the state decides who gets what, often by statute done by the state legislature.
Won’t it be too expensive and take a long time to do a will?
Some people use the excuse that doing a will is too complicated and too expensive for them to undertake.
You can get a simple will in place in about 15 minutes using the WillMaker Plus 2019 software ($79) from Nolo.com. If you don’t like WillMaker, LegalZoom.com ($69) would be another way to get it done on the cheap.
If that’s too expensive, free online will preparation is available from a new life insurance startup called Fabric.
At MeetFabric.com/Wills, you can create a will in just five minutes. There are no apps to download, no services to sign up for and no gimmicks.
You don’t even need to be a life insurance customer with a Fabric policy to do the free will prep — it’s available to anyone.
FreeWill simplifies the process of making a bequest to charities that are near and dear to your heart as part of the estate planning process. Meanwhile, charitable institutions compensate FreeWill for connecting them with donors with whom they hope to cultivate an ongoing relationship.
Isn’t doing a will too important to entrust to anybody except a lawyer?
If you have a complicated life — maybe you own your own business, have built up a lot of assets or you have a blended family — you probably won’t want to go the online self-prepared route. You’ll likely need to go see a lawyer who specializes in wills, estates and trusts.
But for everybody else, Clark Howard says that doing it online yourself is a viable option. If you get confused along the way as you’re doing your will online, you may need to stop and see a lawyer.
The reality is these online services do a great job of asking interactive questions to guide you through the will completion process. But if you want to just push through for peace of mind, it is much cheaper to have a lawyer review the will you’ve self-prepared than to have them actually prepare one for you from scratch.
Lawyers may get upset with the idea of you doing a will online because they think about every disaster that’s ever happened when people have self-prepared a will. But the biggest disaster is not having a will at all.
Don’t leave the future of your heirs in someone else’s hands! Get a will in place today.