How essential is a will, and how do I get over the inertia and actually get one since I suspect it’s likely really important?
If you don’t have kids, a will probably isn’t that essential unless you’re wealthy and care what happens to your money after you’re gone. You’ll be dead and may not care if your potential heirs end up giving all your money to lawyers trying to figure out who gets what. If that’s the case, just let probate deal with stuff. If you’re wealthy enough to be affected by the estate tax, dying without a will means that the government will probably end up with a greater share as well, but I have a hard time feeling sorry for people in that category.
If you have kids who are not yet adults, you need a will because you need to make it clear where your kids will go (and who will take care of their money) in the event that both parents die. This alone is the reason we got wills. If you have kids, providing for their future care is an important responsibility and should be done ASAP. You don’t want them to end up in the foster care system even temporarily. It’s also important to make sure that you have named the person who will be taking care of any assets you leave them, for example, the life insurance that you have also purchased because you have minor children. We have named DH’s brother and his wife’s family as the first place our kids would go (with their permission), but my sister would be in charge of their inheritance. Her values about paying for education and so on are more in line with ours and she would be better able to force DH’s brother and wife to take an annual stipend for their upkeep.
It is also useful to have advance directives about what happens if you are incapacitated, though depending on what state you live in, you can do this with your doctor or using an online form rather than with your lawyer. This was part of the full package when we did our wills. Here’s the info for Minnesota. Michigan allows you to file yours in a statewide registry, which is pretty cool.
How to get over the inertia?
Right now. I mean, literally right now, contact a bunch of people in your area to ask them who they have used for a will. Once you’ve got a name, MAKE AN APPOINTMENT. Spring break is probably a good time to actually go in, but make that appointment now.
Now, they may send you a long form asking detailed minutia about your assets. If your net worth is nowhere near the estate tax limit, do not let this form stop you from actually going in. Let them know that you don’t need anything fancy because your wealth is lower than 2.7 million, the estate tax limit in Minnesota (or 11.4 million if you live in Michigan, since Michigan has no estate tax…), (actually, let them know it’s lower than 1 or 2 million if that is true), so that other stuff is irrelevant. Then you might not need to fill out the form.
You, Leah, (and your DH) need a will because you have kids. Having a will is the responsible thing to do. It will be pricey (ours was ~$500, but that was a decade ago! Though we get to update ours for free in perpetuity as part of that upfront cost), but it will be worth it for your kids if the worst possible thing happens. It’s worth saving up for. It’s worth taking out of your emergency fund.
Grumpeteers, how did you get your will done? Anyone have success with online outfits like legalzoom?