Writing a will is not something that most of us think about. Or talk about. Or want to think or talk about. Because writing a will reminds us that we are all going to die.
Death is a topic that causes most of us incredible fear, pain, and discomfort. The mere thought that our child, parent, or partner could die at any moment petrifies us. So, when it comes to our own mortality, it is not surprising that we would prefer to avoid the topic. In essence, writing a will is something that we rationally know we should do but politely avoid because it is unpleasant to plan for our own demise.
In fact, a large percentage of adults in the USA do not have a legal will. In a 2012 survey by Rocket Lawyer.com, half of Americans with children did not have a legal will (1). A recent study by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) found that only 44% of individuals between the ages of 50-54 have a legal will (2).
So, why is it so important to write a will? Why should you spend time, money, and emotional energy to write a will? Here are three powerful reasons that you should confront your feelings about death and write a will today.
The main reason to write a will is to give yourself a voice. To make your wishes known. To dictate what happens to your belongings after you die. For if you die without a will, your possessions will be divided as dictated by the laws of your state and the government. This includes everything considered to be a part of your estate, including your money, personal effects, and property.
Of particular note, if you are not legally married, your domestic partner may have no rights to your belongings if you die and do not have a will in place (3). This is especially relevant for many gay and lesbian couples who cannot be legally married due to some current state laws (4). Furthermore, if you do not have any surviving relatives, your entire estate could go to the state instead of your favorite charity or loved ones (5). So, if you want specific people to inherit family heirlooms, the majority of your cash, or your home, it needs to be specified in a legal will; otherwise it will be determined for you.
2) Protect Your Dependents.
We care about our children, pets, and other legal dependents (such as aging parents) more than almost anything else in life. Without a doubt, deciding who we want to raise our children or care for loved ones when we die is an incredibly difficult decision. Yet, without a will, custody of your dependents will be transferred to the next surviving family member or other guardian as determined by the state. In a will, you can outline everything from who you want to have primary custody of your children to who can have visitation and sustained relationships with them over time (6). Although it is a painful topic, wouldn’t you rather decide who cares for your dependents than have the state make that decision for you?
3) Unburden Family and Friends.
When you die, your loved ones will grieve. On top of coping with your death, they will also have to make difficult decisions about what to do with your estate. Without a will, this process can be incredibly stressful, emotionally painful, conflicted, and time consuming. It is actually a wonderful gift to those you love to have a will in place so that they can celebrate your life after you die—not become engrossed in legal battles over your stuff.
The Naked Truth is this: All of us deceive ourselves to avoid uncomfortable life realities (7). Our ability to deny, distract, and rationalize helps us to cope with some of the most difficult realities of life. Yet, until we find the scientific fountain of youth, we are still all going to die. If you want any control over what happens to your belongings and dependents after you die, write a will. Today.
For more information on practical aspects of writing a will, visit http://www.usa.gov/topics/money/personal-finance/wills.shtml or https://www.legalzoom.com/knowledge/last-will/topic/wills-intestate.
Copyright Cortney S. Warren, Ph.D.