A 2017 survey found that only 42% of U.S. adults — and only 36% of those with children under age 18 — had a will or a living trust.1 (A living trust can serve some but not all functions of a will; you should have a will even if you have a trust.)
The most common reasons given for not taking this simple step are procrastination and not having enough assets.2 In fact, creating a will does not have to be difficult or time-consuming, and everyone should have one regardless of his or her assets. Here are three good reasons.
Distribute property. A will enables you to leave your property at your death to anyone you choose: a surviving spouse, a child, other relatives, friends, a trust, or a charity. Transfers through your will take the form of specific bequests (e.g., heirlooms, jewelry, or cash), general bequests (e.g., a percentage of your property), or a residuary bequest of what’s left after your other transfers. It is generally a good practice to name backup beneficiaries.
Your spouse may have certain rights with respect to your property, regardless of the provisions in your will. Also, assets for which you have already named a beneficiary pass directly to the beneficiary (e.g., life insurance, pension plans, IRAs).
Appoint a guardian. In many states, a will is the only way to specify who you want to act as legal guardian for your minor children if you die. You can name a personal guardian, who takes personal custody of the children, and a property guardian, who manages the children’s assets. This can be the same person or different people.
Name an executor. A will allows you to select an executor to act as your legal representative after your death. An executor carries out many estate settlement tasks, including locating your will, collecting your assets, paying legitimate creditor claims, paying any taxes owed by your estate, and distributing any remaining assets to your beneficiaries.
Though it is not a legal requirement, a will should generally be drafted by an attorney. There may be costs involved with the creation of a will or a trust, the probate of a will, and the operation of a trust.