Death is not a favorite conversation topic. However, we all know it is something we must at some point discuss. The loss of a close friend or family member, or an event such as the COVID-19 pandemic, seems to bring the topic to the forefront.
I am often asked, “Do I need a will?” And my response is yes, you do. The second question is, “What happens if I don’t.” My answer is, the state of Arkansas will “write” one for you.
If you die without a will, you are said to die “intestate.” When this occurs, the laws of the state of Arkansas set forth who will receive your estate. This may not be how you wish for your assets to pass.
When you die, your assets are called your “estate.” How these assets pass is called your “estate plan.” Estate plans can be simple to quite complex. Usually the larger the estate, the more complex the plan will be. No matter the complexity, a will is part of the plan.
So what should be in a will? A will lets you decide the distribution of your assets – to whom, how, and when. These assets include your real estate and personal property. Also included are your investments and businesses. You may choose to direct by will how retirement accounts and life insurance proceeds are passed. You can make charitable gifts to your favorite charities or your church. A will is also important if you have minor children because it can dictate your guardian preference in the event of your death.
While it is true you can write your own will, I always advise to have one prepared by an attorney. Before meeting with an attorney, prepare a listing of all your assets – home, real estate, bank accounts, retirement plans, and personal property such as cars, life insurance policies, etc.
You will also need to prepare a listing of all debts – mortgages, auto loans, and credit cards. Also prepare a list of all immediate living family members, detailing their addresses and birth dates.
These lists will help your attorney guide the discussion as your will is prepared. If you have a safe deposit box, be sure to detail its location. If you have prized possessions, such as collections or family heirlooms, be sure to detail these as well.
When meeting with an attorney, I also suggest consideration be given to having a power of attorney and medical directive created. Your attorney will ask who you want to give the decision making power to in these documents. It is good to have a discussion with the person you are considering before finalizing the documents.
Originals of these documents should be kept in a safe place and be accessible by your estate administrator. These documents should be reviewed at least every three years and at pivotal life moments such as marriage, divorce, birth of a child, death of a beneficiary, and so on. A will change is called a “codicil” and is easy to do.
There are many estate planning resources to review online. I would encourage you to research them, and then visit with a professional to discuss your options. Estate planning experts can provide key planning insights from their experience working with estate plans and families.
G. Gene Crawford II is President of the Trust Division at Citizens Bank in Batesville. He can be reached at 870-698-6371, or by email, firstname.lastname@example.org.