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When should I start writing my will?

Determining when to begin writing your will is a very personal decision. It is common for people to put off thinking about death, but our lives are filled with complicated relationships that often affect how we want our estates to be divided after we die. Without a will, your estate will be divided by your state’s intestacy laws, which may not align with your wishes. Also, the probate process, or the process of sorting out your property, can be long and expensive, leaving less for your heirs to inherit than you had intended.

Regardless of what stage of life you are in, there are numerous reasons to have a will, including:

  • Controlling the way your wealth is divided
  • Determining who will take care of minor children
  • Speeding up the probate process
  • Minimizing estate taxes
  • Making gifts or donations

Anyone 18 years old or older can have a legal will in most states, and for most adults, it is a good idea to have one. This includes if you have a positive net worth, are unmarried to a significant other, are married, have children, are ill or are elderly.

Tips to remember

Once you have a will in place, it is important to update it regularly as your life changes. This is one of the four common estate planning mistakes, according to U.S. News and World Report. The other three mistakes include not setting or updating a beneficiary for your financial accounts, neglecting to appoint a guardian for your children and appointing an ill-advised executor.

It is also important to remember that your will is only one tool in your estate planning toolbox. Depending on your situation, you may want to consider also having an assignment of power of attorney, a living will, a healthcare proxy or a trust.

Although having an estate plan is a personal decision, it is ultimately the right decision for most people. Procrastination and an unwillingness to accept the inevitable prevent many people from creating estate plans until it is too late. The best time to get started writing your will or otherwise working on your estate plan is most likely now, when you are already thinking about it and are of sound mind.

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