Why You Need a Will

by Emily Guy Birken · 12 comments

If you’re like the majority of Americans, you have not put together a last will and testament. Let’s face it, thinking about what will happen to your money and property after your death is not a pleasant way to spend your time. However, it’s irresponsible to leave these decisions up to chance. Here are some reasons why you should make sure that your wishes are spelled out in a will.

Dying intestate can leave your minor children vulnerable. My husband and I were shocked to find out that if something were to happen to us, the state of Indiana would decide the best situation for our 8 month-old son. Within our family, we have already decided and asked a family member to be his guardian should the worst happen, but without putting it down in writing, the state has no way of knowing what we want—and what is best for him. If you have children under 18, it’s absolutely imperative that you write a will and name a guardian, just in case.

Without a will, your money and property will be split up. While these decisions are different from state to state, generally you can expect the following money and property breakdowns:

For married individuals with children: In most states, the surviving spouse receives 1/3 to 1/2 of the estate with the rest going to the children. If you want either your spouse or children to receive more than that, you’re out of luck without a will.

For married individuals without children: In this case, most states will award the surviving spouse 1/3 to 1/2 of the estate, with the rest going to the parents and/or siblings of the deceased. It doesn’t matter if you are estranged from your family, in the midst of a divorce, or from an enormous family.

For single individuals with children: Generally the state will award the entire estate to the children in this case. My family has experience with this aspect of intestacy, as an aunt who passed away without a will was not able to specify that some of her estate go to the care of her disabled sister, leaving the family in a financial bind.

For single individuals without children: The state will generally award the estate to your parents or siblings. It doesn’t matter if you have been living with your partner for years, according to the state your nuclear family gets your money and property.

Every family has different needs when it comes to finances, and only you can know what will be best for your situation. Don’t let a “one-size-fits-all” state approach to estates destroy what you have built and planned for with your family. Make sure you protect yourself and your family with a will. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

So, do you have a will yet? And if not, have you booked your appointment to see an estate planner yet?

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  • Deette says:

    Very good article…. I will be getting my hind end in gear and drawing up a will.
    Have a Fabulous & Frugal Day….

  • Chuck Berry says:

    This information is invaluable. I did not know the states have this much power over your finances when you have passed on. Thanks

  • Matt Bell says:

    If you get a will before having kids, one way you can save on the cost of updating it is by naming a guardian for “future children.”

  • KM says:

    I first made a will when I left for a 3-month trip to Europe, just in case. Now that I have a son, I had to revise it to make sure he is taken care of by someone I trust, which is my mom, and for my finances to go to him when he is old enough. I plan to keep revising it as my situation changes and becomes more complex.

  • Emily Guy Birken says:

    @Justin, a will you have written yourself without a lawyer or witnesses is referred to as a holographic will and in the absence of another legally binding document, will in many jurisdictions be probated. However, this is not true in all places, and when it comes to this sort of important document, I’d personally rather make sure that I have a legitimate and legally binding document.

  • Jason @ MyMoneyMinute says:

    Not to mention the intestacy laws could always change. Might as well get a will and have it set in stone. Makes it a lot easier.

  • Justin says:

    Can a will be something you wrote yourself and it be binding or does it have to be notarized or in some other way deemed to be “legitimate”?

    • KM says:

      I am pretty sure it has to has to be notarized. Otherwise, the state doesn’t know if it was forged or not. I notarize mine at my bank and they check my driver license and record all the information.

    • Patrick R. Carlson says:


      In order for a will to be legally valid it must be signed or executed according to the rules of law. Notarizing the document isn’t enough (nor is it even required) in Oklahoma, where I practice.

      Oklahoma has two types of wills, holographic (or handwritten wills) and attested wills. Holographic wills are signed, dated, and written entirely in the testator’s (i.e. the person making the will) handwriting. Attested wills, which are usually typewritten or computer printed, are signed by the testator and witnesses. In Oklahoma, a will does not need to be notarized to be valid (I don’t practice in other states, so I’m not sure of their requirements).

      You want your important legal documents like wills to be valid. An estate planning attorney can guide you through the process and make sure that the documents are valid. Because each state has its own requirements, consult with a qualified attorney in your jurisdiction to make sure that the your documents are correct.

      -Patrick R. Carlson

      • Nicole says:

        It depends on which state you live in – some require 2 witnesses and a notary, some require 1 witness and a notary, some require 2 witnesses. Some accept handwritten wills, others do not.

        Please speak with an attorney so that your will is drafted in accordance with state law and it will be honored and respected upon your passing.

        Nicole Paul


      HELLO . Well here in CANADA , myself and wife had our wills done by our lawyer approx. 5 yrs ago . And it cost us $300.00 and it is regestered . AND we decided we are in our late 60s . and had to work hard , and give our children , what we could . to make them happy . But one day our son , came over ( suprise . I need a co-signer , for over $300.000 . to buy a new house .Well WE had to make a decision . to teach him a real quick lesson in life. And our answer was , well when you were born , you had two feet and hands . Don,t you think it,s time to ,stand on them and , work things ,like mom and i did . To get you an education ,etc. well the true colors came out real fast . And he left our home and has not called or visited since . WE ARE not rich people . but live comfortability, and don,t intent to be living on the street , in our later yrs. Today children , for some reason .Think we owe them something . And they get everything , when we die , Well we had a long discussion . and our kids who are in there early 40s. Have no problem going to the casino and losing there shirts. AND THINK IN THERE MINDS , THERE ABOVE EVERYONE. WELL WELCOME TO THE REAL WORLD. MYSELF AND MY WIFE ARE ENJOYING LIFE . THAT, WE COULD NOT DO IN OUR EARLY YRS. JUST TO MAKE SURE , THEY HAD WHAT THEY NEEDED . And now we take a trip ,when ever we want . It,s time we think of our life for what yrs , we have left. And they can have what,s left. If were only needed when they need money. Well there in for a surprise. The bank account is getting smaller every couple MONTHs. ( THIS GENERATION SURE IS DIFFERENT , THAN WHEN WE ALL GREW UP . AND DIDN,T HAVE EVERY THING HANDED TO US ON A GOLDEN PLATTER . We both worked hard all our lives , never on unemployment , or welfare . We appreciate what we own . since we worked for every thing we own . nothing was given to us . And we feel happy we done this on our own. So kids , stand on your ( own two feet . And stop waiting for us to die , so you can , live the life of riley . on our DIME. You,ll be a better person . when you save money and buy something ,and pay cash . (you,ll appreciate it 100% more. than if it was GIVEN to you. ( please do not reply . thank you kindly .

  • Dominique @Dominique's Desk says:

    We do have a will and recently got it revised when our #3 was born.

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