Insurance 101

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  • The Importance of a Will

  • You might not have heard the phrase “dying intestate,” but it means dying without a will. It also means that a judge will decide how your assets will be distributed. If you’re a single parent with minor children, the same judge decides who will be your children’s guardian. Dying intestate is the ultimate form of loss of control.

    The only way to avoid this scenario is to have a will drawn. Although the phrase “have a will drawn” might sound intimidating, the actual legal document isn’t. It’s just a legal declaration of how you want your assets divided after your death. The asset distribution covered in the will refers to assets like a house, car, or bank account that you own in your own name. Assets that you own jointly with another person (with right of survivorship) will go directly to that person when you die. Items such as insurance proceeds and pension benefits aren’t covered by a will either because you designated the beneficiaries for those types of assets when you bought the policy or enrolled in the pension plan.

    Although there are inexpensive kits to create a will available on the Internet, it’s a good idea to have a lawyer draw up your will to be sure that it complies with all state laws. You should also make your heirs familiar with the general contents and location of the will. Find a secure place outside your home like a bank safe deposit box to lessen the risk of the will being lost in a fire or natural disaster. Also consider providing family members with photocopies of the will so that your wishes can be carried out even if the original will is lost or destroyed.
    When you meet with your attorney to draft your will, it is important that you have the following information on hand:

    • A list of all tangible assets (homes, cars, etc.) and deeds and bills of sale that prove ownership and provide purchase price information.
    • A list of all intangible assets (bank accounts, brokerage accounts, etc.) and bank and brokerage statements.
    • A list of your outstanding debts.
    • Names, addresses, and telephone numbers of any professionals to be contacted, such as your financial planner, banker, or lawyer.
    • The names of the executor of the will and your children’s guardian.

    Keep in mind that husbands and wives have the option of either a joint will or separate ones. Most lawyers recommend that you write separate ones because it is easier to establish ownership of property. Separate wills will prevent problems about changing the terms of the will without the consent of the other spouse in the event of a separation or divorce.

    Finally, think of your will as a work in progress for the remainder of your life. You should review it at least every five years. Changes in family circumstances, personal finances, and/or federal and state laws could require you to revise your will. If changes do occur, sit down with your attorney and make the necessary revisions to keep your will in compliance with current laws and regulations and to ensure it is a reflection of your current wishes.

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