Hey there, mama. You may think your family is small, your life is simple, and your finances minuscule. You may not think you need a will, living will, or healthcare power of attorney, but you are probably wrong. This is why you need a will.
1. Have the Final Say or NO Say
When you die, your property will still pass, but without a will, a prewritten law will decide who will get what – not you. This is called dying intestate. In addition to starting family fights and making a sad time more confusing, not having a will can truly have devastating consequences you don’t see coming.
A will is literally making your will, legally binding and court enforceable. Without it, there’s no guarantee and really strange things can happen, like your brother-in-law inheriting everything. If you have a will of you own, then chances are you need, you know, a will of your own.
2. Your Children
Not only can you make the process easier for them by making your wishes clear and avoiding family conflict, but this is the legal way for you to determine what the custody arrangement would be should something happen to you while they are minors. Do you want a court who doesn’t know them and circumstances to decide?
Don’t assume they will go with your parents, an old friend, or to someone you had at a religious ceremony. Expectant parents should all consider getting a will, which can also specify how their assets will be handled for their child and further requests.
3. You Own Property
If you own any property – sentimental items, a house with or without a mortgage, or a car – you need a will, or the people left behind will have quite the paperwork induced headache, and may not agree.
But wills don’t just dispose of property. They can specify for your family what you want done with your body, with your ceremony, and even provide plans for your pets. Did you know many animals in rescues today went there after their owners passed away and the person handling affairs could not care for them or didn’t know the plan?
4. It’s More Than Just a Document
Lawyers drafting your will also know to cover important things such as life insurance policies, bank accounts, tax issues, debt inheritance, Medicare eligibility, living wills and healthcare powers of attorney. Do not wait until you’re “nearing the end” when it’s easier to be taken advantage of as you’re less sound. Do it now while you’re sure.
Also, having to go over your finances and discuss personal preferences can help you majorly during life! Many of us avoid looking at it until it’s too late and let someone else wade through our papers and search through our lives while they grieve.
5. The Step-Children Issue
The law does not treat step-children as natural and adopted children. On the other hand, if your current spouse survives you and you don’t have a will, they will receive half and your children split the other half. The spouse can do with their half what they please when they die, including give it all to their child. All your natural and adopted children will inherit equally, though that isn’t always a fair situation.
Also, if your spouse has an illegitimate child, they will inherit equally with your children. Your previous spouse won’t have a right to anything – even personal items. A current significant other that is not a spouse will likewise receive nothing. If you’ve been married more than once, you may not realize it, but probably you do need a will.
Now, Let’s Address How to Get a Will
But wait – what if something changes and I need a new will? Wouldn’t it be better to wait?
You won’t need another new will, probably. A good lawyer will draft with general language where needed and include contingencies, like for future children. If you do wish to amend your will, you can do with a codicil, which basically serves as an addendum tacked on to the end. This won’t be an entire new drafting process each time something changes in your life. You can revoke a will entirely if you want too. Take a deep breath.
Can’t I just write up my own?
Sure, about as well as you can take out your own appendix. Remember, you’re not paying for the paper, just like you’re not paying for the scalpel and anesthesia. Actually, you’re paying for the knowledge of the law and how it works, the experience of having read hundreds of wills and seeing what wording negatively impacts you in probate court.
Assuming you can write your own, you probably shouldn’t. The problem doesn’t come from what you do know to write, the problem is the things you won’t know to address, as well as making sure the will is properly witnessed in order to be valid in South Carolina.
How much should it cost?
How much is it worth to have control over what happens to your children, pets, body, and belongings after death? The same amount as a major car fix? A leaky pipe? Health insurance? Cable? Daycare? An iPhone?
That being said, a simple will usually costs a few hundred dollars to a thousand, maybe two if things get complicated. A lawyer should be able to give you an estimate of flat fee, not an hourly fee, for this type of work. Again, clients with the more complicated needs – more specifications as well as well as more assets – should expect more complex services needed, including tax and trusts.
If this cost looks impossible for you, don’t worry yet. Look into the many free legal clinics the South Carolina Bar offers.
Military families should consult their JAG. Veterans can get free legal services through the VA. Or look into Federal Bar’s pro bono Outreach Program Will for Veterans Initiative.
How do I find a lawyer?
The best way to find a lawyer is always by recommendation. Ask people you trust, or pose the question in a local group who you feel confident will give you their honest, unbiased opinion.
Take the step and handle this today, so you can live and rest in peace.