This was originally published on Monday, June 30, 2014, in the Pacific Daily News. Click here to subscribe to the PDN.
It is never easy to sit down and discuss with your loved ones how you want your assets divided when you pass. It is unfortunate how many people never establish a will. Having a will not only saves your loved ones from heartache but it may also reduce many fees, taxes and legal expenses your loved ones might have to pay by not having a will.
A will is a legal document that divides assets after your death according to your wishes. Your assets can be retirement plans, real estate, insurance policies, stocks, cars, collectibles and much more.
A will appoints an executor or someone who is responsible for your estate once you pass. The executor settles any debts and taxes owed by the deceased, and takes inventory of and appraise the assets. The executor also distributes the assets according to the will. The executor is to act in the best interest of the deceased. They do not have to be family or named in the will. Some choose a third party as an executor because they have no emotional ties to the parties involved. If you are appointing someone you know personally, be sure to inform them of their role.
Your beneficiaries are those who will receive the assets and inheritance. They do not have to be related; they can be friends or even organizations. Be specific, use birth names and not nicknames. It may be wise to have primary and secondary beneficiaries. If the primary beneficiary dies, the second beneficiary will receive that asset.
Dying without a will is called “intestate.” This means that you have no choice in who gets what assets. This tends to be where many of the family arguments start, especially if an asset was promised to one without anyone else knowing. Dying without a will can be costly for your loved ones if there are outstanding debts or taxes on the assets. It also can leave costly court fees when your assets go into probate. Probate is the legal process in which a will is proved to be valid or invalid, according to legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com. It can take months to years to decide who gets the assets or if it is awarded to an heir.
A will can be very simple depending on your assets and how you plan to divide the assets. With today’s technology, a will can be drafted from an online template at very little cost. It is wise, though, to get the document notarized to avoid any claims that the will is invalid. If you have a lot of assets or plan to divide them in a complicated manner, seek a lawyer to guarantee that the property is divided properly.
Review your will once a year to make sure it stays current with your assets and your wishes. If there has been a life-changing event (marriage, divorce, birth, death) you most certainly need to update your will. Some married couples have joint wills and individual wills in case they pass away together or individually. Be sure that your beneficiaries on your 401(k), IRA or pensions match your will. If there are any conflicts, the person named on the accounts will receive the money, not those listed in the will.
Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com.