By Jon L. Ten Haagen
If you have any accumulated assets, such as a car, jewelry or property, and you want these assets to go to someone specific when you are no longer on this Earth, you need a will. Otherwise, your asset will go through probate court and they will decide who gets your assets. This may not be what you want, so pay attention
A will is a legal document that is generally used to describe how you want your estate to be distributed after your death. Over the many years that I have been a certified financial planner, I have heard many reasons to not create a will. One of the best reasons I’ve heard was someone saying that if they create a will something bad would happen, so it is best no to have a will! By the way, I have never had someone create a will and have something bad happen because they created a will.
The will is also a way to name an executor for your estate, or a guardian for your minor children, and also your beneficiaries. It is usually recommended that you consider naming someone younger than you and your spouse. It is a good practice to name backup executors, guardians and beneficiaries just in case. It is not required; however, you should strongly consider having your will drafted by an attorney who specializes in wills.
To create a will you must be of legal age, which is 18 in most states. You must also understand what property you own, who the family members or friends it would seem natural to leave property to are, and who gets what under your will.
Generally, a will is a written document that must be executed with appropriate formalities. You should sign the document. The will should also be signed by at least two witnesses who are of legal age and understand what they are witnessing. Some states require three witnesses. The witnesses should not benefit from any of the provisions in the will. Some states, such as New York, also require the will to be notarized.
Note that certain property will not be transferred by a will. For example, property you hold in joint tenancy or tenancy by the entirety passes to the surviving joint owner(s) at your death. Also, certain property (e.g., life insurance, qualified retirement plans, IRAs, Totten trust accounts, payable on death accounts, transferable on death accounts) pass “through” directly to the designated beneficiary at your death, bypassing the probate process.
Some states allow a will that is entirely in your handwriting, known as a holographic will. Some other states allow a “nuncupative” will, which is an oral will you dictate during your last illness, before witnesses, that is later converted to writing. There is also a process where a videographer will film your spoken will and it becomes a permanent document to validate your last will and testament.
Please do yourself, your family, your loved ones, your friends and people you think you want to leave gifts to a favor and create your will now. It takes time to sit and really think through what you want to have happen to your estate – be it big or small – but your loved ones will thank you later. I have seen too many families go through very trying times when items are not specifically spelled out in writing.
“Mom said I could have that item.”
“No, she said I would get it!”
Sit down and get started. Everyone involved will be better off.
Have a wonderful spring.
Huntington’s Jon L. Ten Haagen, CFP*, runs Ten Haagen Financial Services, Inc., a full-service independent financial planning firm – and now, he is here to answer your questions!
In this bi-monthly column, Ten Haagen will answer your financial questions and help you with his expert financial advice. Don’t be shy – our expert is here for you, so feel free to ask away!
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*Ten Haagen is an Investment Advisor Representative offering securities and advisory services offered through Royal Alliance Associates, Inc., member of FINRA/SIPC, and a registered investment advisor. He is also an active community member, serving on several nonprofit boards and as executive officer of the Greater Huntington Boating Council.
** NEW OFFICE LOCATION: Due to a fire in the office building, the offices of Ten Haagen Financial Services, Inc. are now at 12 Bayview Ave., Northport.