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Do I Need a Will? 4 Factors to Help You Decide

According to a 2017 Gallup poll, only half of all Americans have a written will. While that might not shock you, of those surveyed under age 50, only 30% had a written will. The bottom line is, it’s a mistake to wait until you’re elderly to have your will drafted.

None of us like to contemplate our own death. It’s even harder to want to face when you are young. But dying without a will (intestate) can have serious implications for your family’s housing, financial security, and welfare. Young adults—probably more than anyone else—need the protection a will provides.

So, do you need a will? Here are a few factors to consider in determining if now is the time for you to establish a written will.

Factor #1: Do You Have a Spouse?

If so, you should have a will.

When you consider your premature demise, the well-being of your partner is your first concern. Dying without a will can have serious effects for your spouse, especially if you have children from a previous marriage or relationship.

What happens to your spouse’s interest in your estate if you die intestate (without a will) is determined by the state you live in. For instance, in Minnesota, your estate will go to your spouse and children; however, if you have step-children, the “elective share” (the first $225,000 and half of the remaining estate) will go to your surviving partner. The rest will be divided between your biological or legally adopted children.

In states like North Dakota, the elective share allows for a surviving spouse to set aside a spouse’s will and, instead, take the share provided by state law. This “election” ensures that a surviving spouse receives a fair and just portion of their marital property and can’t be entirely “cut out.”

No matter where you live, if you have a valid written will, your wishes for your estate’s distribution will be generally followed. You will not only provide financially for your surviving family members, but also help prevent conflict between your family members over their inheritance.

Note: Elective Share is a legal exception to a will.

Factor #2: Do You Have Children?

If so, you should have a will.

A will determines how much, or what portion, of your estate your children receive when you die. Without a will, your children may not receive the inheritance you’d wish.

In North Dakota, if unmarried, your entire estate is divided between your children. However, if you are married, your children share only what’s remaining after your spouse receives the elective share.

Factor #3: Do You Have Elderly Parents?

If so, you should probably have a will.

Parents aren’t often the first people we think of when making end of life preparations. However, structuring your will appropriately for is important for them, too.

For instance, if your parents have limited resources and are receiving government benefits, a will that gives them a significant lump sum could cause them to lose their benefits.

Inheritance law in some states, like North Dakota, gives parents the right to inherit a portion of their deceased child’s estate if they do not have a written will. If you have no spouse or children, your parents are next in line to inherit your entire estate. If you have a spouse but no children, your parents will inherit what is left of your estate after your spouse’s share.

Factor #4: Do You Have a Pet?

If so, you might want a will.

Without a written will, your beloved pet may end up in an animal shelter, if no one voluntarily accepts responsibility for their care.

Designating a responsible party for your pet in your will can help your pet have a smooth transition. Some people also choose to create a “pet trust” to provide for their pet financially and make sure they are being taken care of.

If you’ve answered yes to any of the questions above, it’s probably time to get a written will.

This process can get complicated; the best way to ensure that your will has been drafted properly and everyone you care about has been provided for, is to seek help from a qualified estate planning attorney.

At Gjesdahl Law, we’ve spent years helping people just like you through the estate planning process in North Dakota and Minnesota.

Contact us today and we’ll be happy to answer any questions you have and help you get started with your will.

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Travis R. Jung

Travis joined Gjesdahl Law, P.C. in 2017. His practice is devoted to Estate Planning, Elder Law, and Probate Law.  Travis lives in Moorhead with his wife, Chasity, and their …
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