When can and should I write my will?

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Andrew Goldman

Andrew Goldman has been writing for over 20 years and investing for the past 10 years. He currently writes about personal finance and investing for Wealthsimple. Andrew's past work has been published in The New York Times Magazine, Bloomberg Businessweek, New York Magazine and Wired. Television appearances include NBC's Today show as well as Fox News. Andrew holds a Bachelor of Arts (English) from the University of Texas. He and his wife Robin live in Westport, Connecticut with their two boys and a Bedlington terrier. In his spare time, he hosts “The Originals" podcast.

Before we get to the question of “when should,” it’s best to start with the issue of “when can” you write a will. With some exceptions, most states only allow those who are 18 and older to produce a legally binding last will and testament.

The “should” question is trickier. We get it — unlike every other human that tried and failed, you intend never to die. But even if you’re young, there may be some very compelling reasons to write your will. If you have an inheritance, even if it’s in trust, you should consider writing your will. If you have specific plans for a beloved pet frog should you yourself croak, get a will. If you have money or objects you want to leave to a specific person, group, or charity, you’ll want one. And ditto if you want any say on your digital legacy — ownership of your photos, and how your social media accounts will be administered after your death.

There are even more pressing justifications to get a will: if you have a child, and want to be sure where the little one ends up in case you and your spouse or the child’s parent die or become incapacitated. If you have a history of mental illness in your family, because such an illness may deprive you of the agency to make major life decisions like guardianship, you should think about a will.

If you die without a will, your estate will end up in what’s called “intestate succession” meaning your property will be divvied up according to the state law where you live. Most states base their laws on the Uniform Probate Code, which dictates that the closer the relative, the more of your estate they’ll receive, and judges closeness this way, in descending order, your spouse, your kids, then your parents.

You don’t necessarily need to hire a lawyer to write a will, but there are specific conventions you’ll need to follow to make it legally binding. Include language that states that the document your last will and testament, that you’re of sound mind and body, sign it, and make sure you have at least two other people sign it as well — many states require these signatories be “disinterested” meaning that they don’t stand to inherit anything from you.

Last Updated January 29, 2018

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