Posted: Sep 17, 2013 10:00 AM
 
Sure, you started to feel a bit more like a grown-up when you landed your first “real” job. Or maybe it was when you moved into your first apartment as a married couple. Regardless of when it happened, face it — you're a grown-up now. Whether you have young children or no kids, there is one critically important grown-up thing you absolutely need to take care of. You need a will.

What would happen if you died tomorrow? You may not want to consider the possibility, but honestly we just never really know what may happen. If you have assets or property — even just a brand new car and a 401k account — you should have a say in who these things pass to upon your death. If you have a spouse and children it is even more critical to have a plan in place, just in case.

What does a will do?

You may not want your property to go to your heirs at law, and the only way to ensure your property is distributed as you desire it to be is to have a proper will executed.

Many young people who are just starting out wonder why they really need a will. Tricia M.Y. Tweel is an attorney with Harris Shelton Hanover Walsh, PLLC who concentrates in probate, estate planning and conservatorships/guardianship matters. "If you do not have a will, state law decides how to distribute your property, to your 'heirs at law,'" she says. "You may not want your property to go to your heirs at law, and the only way to ensure your property is distributed as you desire it to be is to have a proper will executed."

Without a will, the courts may decide — for example — that your heir at law is your brother, who happens to have a serious gambling problem. Maybe your favorite niece could have used a little help with her college tuition, but she wouldn't receive a penny from your estate without a will designating her as a beneficiary. Beyond your simple financial assets, you may have family heirlooms and want to make certain that these are passed to the proper family members.

Can't we just leave it all to the kids?

If there is no will, a guardian will have to be appointed over minor children's inherited assets, and all money spent is subject to court approval.

Many married couples assume that if something happens to them, the kids will inherit everything anyway. "Minors cannot normally inherit," says Tweel. "If you have minor children, you will want to set up a trust for them to protect their money. If there is no will, a guardian will have to be appointed over minor children's inherited assets, and all money spent is subject to court approval," she adds, "which costs time and money." In some cases, the minor children's assets are managed by someone other than the person who has physical guardianship of the children — it depends on the situation. Your lawyer will make sure these details are well-documented.

Finding a lawyer

If you are like most young people, you may not even know a reputable lawyer to make an appointment with. This is sometimes one of the reasons that keeps people from having a will. Alvi Aggarwal is an attorney who practices primarily in the area of wills, trusts and estates. Most of her clients are new to estate planning, under the age of 40 and have young children. We asked for her advice on how to find a lawyer, and she shared these tips with us.

  • Gather a few names of lawyers from friends, family and the internet.
  • Look up the lawyers on your state bar's website. Make sure each lawyer you're considering is licensed to practice law in the state where you live. Some state bar websites will also show you information about disciplinary complaints.
  • Check the lawyers' websites. I think the most important criteria in selecting a lawyer for your estate plan is to find one who practices primarily in the area of wills, trusts and estates. There's a lot of information to keep up with in this field, and I see a lot of lawyer-created estate plans that could be better. While you're visiting the websites, look at each lawyer's credentials, experience and other qualifications, then ask yourself what qualifies the lawyer to make your will.
  • Call the lawyers' offices to get more information. Talk to the lawyer, if you can. Some lawyers are happy to give information about their process and fees over the phone, while others will insist on an appointment. If you make an appointment, you might want to ask whether there will be a fee for it.

Do-it-yourself

Feel like you can't afford the attorney's fees? Check around first, you may be surprised at how reasonably-priced a simple will may be. The money you spend now will only save your loved ones money — and stress — down the road. There are several online sites with information about preparing your own simple will, as well as other legal documents. Check out RocketLawyer, LegalZoom or Nolo Law for All.

More planning for the future

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What a 13 year age difference means in my marriage
How I'm raising my daughter without my mother

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