A number of people have asked me to write a post explaining why you need a will. I talk to people all the time about this issue, and many people tell me that they do not need a will - they either don't have children, or they don't have any assets. So in the interest of explaining, in the simplest terms, to everyone, why it is that you need a will, the following is all I can offer you:
Someday you will die.
So it's time to ask yourself - when you die, what happens to your stuff? And let's just pretend for a moment that instead of dying from old age, you are killed in a car accident and there is a large insurance payout that goes to your estate. Who gets that money? Is it your spouse? Is it your parents? Is it your sibling? Is it the state? What if you and your spouse both die at the same time? If you have a will, you get to say who gets that money. If you don't have a will, you follow what is called "intestacy". Every state has a system in place as to who gets your money - and it isn't necessarily your spouse. Your spouse gets more of your money, but not all of your money, in some states.
If you have children, let me just relay to you the sad story my boss was telling me the other day about the children who went to Disneyworld and came home orphans because their parents were killed in a car accident on the way to dinner. The parents surely had meant to get around to designating a guardian, but just hadn't done it yet, and the seven siblings of the parents went to court which resulted in an 8 hour guardianship hearing over who had the best interest of the children (and million dollar insurance settlement) at heart.
Now, I suppose you are going to tell me that wills are expensive. That is true, I suppose. But it is a lot less than your loved ones could spend on attorneys fees doing what they think you want if something should happen to you. How much should you expect to pay? Probably anything from $200 and up. How do you find a lawyer? You start by talking to people you know that are lawyers - they may know somebody from law school that does estate planning. Otherwise, call your local bar association and see if they have a referral service. If that doesn't work, check in the phone book under "estate planning" or "elder law". Ask for a ballpark price quote, and if it's too high, or they ask you questions that make you uncomfortable, keep looking until you find somebody you like talking to. You should DIY your wills only as a last resort - and make sure you find a guide to what constitutes a will in your state - your local library may have some helpful resources, as might your local Register of Wills. Please do not buy a plastic wrapped set of documents at Office Depot entitled "will" and then fill in the blanks.
Do you have a will? Is it on your to-do list?