Professor's House

The Importance of a Last Will and Testament

It’s interesting how through our thirties, forties, and for some eternal optimists, even our fifties, we cling to the youthful belief that we are invincible and death and tragedy is reserved for the elderly and other people. Perhaps we need to think this way, as if we really understood the dangers of just living daily life, we would lock our doors and refuse at all costs to come out into the world. Since we are not a society of shut-ins and hermits, we must temper our optimism with a dose of reality. Bad things can happen. We hope they don’t, but what do those of us around us have to lose if they do?

Most people with children understand the value of a will. Ironically young couples with children tend to carry life insurance but few pay attention to a will. The belief that something could happen to one parent but not the other lingers in the back of everyone’s mind. It’s unpleasant to think about, so for many of us, we don’t.

Well, it is necessary to take a trip to the land of unsettling thoughts in order to discern what is best for your family. And by family I am not discounting people without children. Whether you have a few small assets or have been stockpiling a fortune under the mattress, unless you would like the state to nab your material possessions when you die, then you need to visit a lawyer to have a will drawn up.

Of course, a will can be created without an attorney, but often the self made wills or wills purchased online are just generic forms that you slip your information in and have someone sign as a witness. An attorney can be more directive about what is best for you and your family, as what may be appropriate for one family may not be appropriate for another. A lawyer allows you to personalize your will as well as protect your assets from the state. There are still a few states that implement a death tax, and without a will, those states are entitled to up to 50% of your assets.

A will is nothing more difficult than taking a list of your assets and your debts to an attorney and explaining what you would like to see happen to your belongings of you were to die. It can be updated as needed and can mean the difference between keeping your significant other on the road to success and leaving them to flail about in the aftermath of what was once a good life.

People with children or grandchildren should absolutely have a will. Grown children are known to lose their minds a bit and begin fighting over family possessions while younger children require a guardian in a parent’s or parents’ absence. Young children without extended family are twice as likely to end up in the foster care system if the parents did not have a will. Sometime legal requirements are necessary. Even if your best friend of fifteen years stated that he or she would be more than willing to take over in your absence, some states will not recognize a verbal agreement outside of next of kin. This would mean that in some states children without extended family will go to a foster care setting while friends of the deceased filed for custody in the court of law. In some states if that friend is single, gay, in marginal yet capable health, or does not meet stringent income criteria, the children are then doomed to remain in foster care. A will would have circumvented this issue and the children would have gone straight to the desired home and the state would have to prove them unfit post placement, which carries a much higher burden of proof than pre-placement.

Most people have to work hard for what they have, and in the unlikely even that a premature death takes them from the planet, it would be much appreciated if the treasures they gained while here in this life didn’t end up as a taxation. No, we don’t like to think about the inevitable, and we like to live in a bubble that allows us to pretend we’re way too young to think about that stuff. An hour of unpleasant thought protects those who love and then we can return to the bubble that allows us to believe that something like that wouldn’t happen to us anyway.

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