ATLANTA — Everyone will need to write a will at some point, but experts say don’t let this pandemic force you to rush to write one.
It could lead to critical errors, that could complicate matters later in life.
Some online estate planning platforms have reported an increase of almost 150% week-over-week inquiries, and there could be an even larger uptick as the coronavirus spreads from cities to small towns.
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“In moments of panic, it can be easy to overlook small details which later on could have a big impact on your beneficiaries, and yourself. The laws around wills are complex, and the stakes are very high. You could accidentally disinherit a loved one, or make the whole document void,” said Martin Brieger, of USAWillGuru.com.
Using a lawyer is the standard way of writing up a will. Lawyers can ensure no errors are made and can draw attention to areas you have overlooked. However, in a period of lockdown when face-to-face visits are not possible, coupled with the high cost of using a lawyer, many people will consider either writing up their own wills, or using online will writing platforms.
Here’s the most-common mistakes that many people can make, according USAWillGuru.com.
Don’t assume a will is only about planning for when you die – it is also there to protect you when you are alive. Should you be in a position where you are unable to make decisions yourself, documents such as health care and financial power of attorneys grant authority to individuals so that they can make decisions on your behalf. Such powers could include do-not-resuscitate orders.
Instructions for your own funeral should not be included in your will i.e. some people may prefer to be cremated, whereas others prefer to be buried. However, wills are typically not read until weeks after your death, by which time it will be too late. Instead, you should write (by email is preferable) to a loved one and explain your preference.
Things have changed rapidly in the digital age – many people overlook the value of digital assets that have both sentimental and financial value. You should consider bequeathing things like digital photos, so that grandchildren can see them one day, otherwise they could disappear forever. Financially, it is important not to overlook online assets such as bank account log-ins etc. For example, you may have purchased shares long ago, even just a small amount – if these aren’t disclosed, then no one will claim them.
Some may already have a will, and during this period of uncertainty may want to update it. Failure to do so could result in unintended consequences. This is particularly important if your personal situation has changed rapidly.
It is important to detail why you have decided to split assets the way you have, otherwise it has the potential to cause fallouts, especially if you haven’t split them equally between family members. However, on the flip-side, you should be careful in not being too specific – for example, you may leave your Ford Explorer to your daughter. Yet if you upgrade to a Jeep Grand Cherokee, the gift could fail as the Ford no longer exists and the Jeep will fall into residue.
Not having the minimum amount of witnesses may make a will invalid. The number of witnesses required varies from state to state (usually two), and so do their minimum ages. In most states, the minimum age required is 18.
Not having an original copy of your will can make the jobs of your executors very frustrating. It is therefore important to tell executors and close ones where your original is stored (hiding it in your couch is a no-no).
Many people may overlook naming executors in their will (those who deal with the administration of your estate). If no one is named, the legal system will then decide who will administer your estate. If you want to avoid just one person as an executor, you can usually appoint more than one.
There have been multiple studies recently showing an increase in alcoholism and drug use, as well as relapse, when people are in lockdown. A will could potentially be contested after you have died if it is proven you were under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
A common mistake is forgetting to include debts, such as mortgages. Inheritances that include large debts could end up causing a legal dispute between beneficiaries.
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