As positive COVID-19 cases skyrocket and hospitals fill with those who never expected to be there, many Americans find themselves wholly unprepared for a potentially terminal diagnosis.
As we move into the second and third years of the pandemic, many at-risk Americans don’t want to be caught unawares. Millions are looking to draw up their wills while they’re able. If the pandemic has you reconsidering your priorities, here are six things you should know about writing a will.
There’s a difference between a living will and a power of attorney
A living will states your preferences for medical decisions if you cannot act in your own interest, while a power of attorney appoints a person to make decisions on your behalf. A living will does not usually require notarization, but powers of attorney require a notarization from a mobile notary. Essentially, a power of attorney’s jurisdiction extends to decisions outside of a medical context, such as financial considerations.
A will must meet specific criteria
A will can be handwritten or typed but must meet the following requirements to be considered legally valid:
- It contains all information required by your state, such as your signature, initials, date, address, and beneficiaries’ addresses
- It meets the witness requirements of the state where you live
- You have written it voluntarily, as a person over the age of eighteen and with a sound mind
- It is not altered, such as by the removal of staples from the pages
The details of these requirements vary by state. You can check your state’s requirements here or have an estate attorney review your will for you.
A will does much more than divide your assets
You can use your will to appoint an executor to carry out your wishes, guardians for your children (or pets), or even to disinherit specific relatives. It is essential that all people, regardless of wealth, learn to develop a successful estate plan to avoid having important decisions made for them by state laws. An estate plan is the best way to ensure that your executors follow your final wishes.
A will can not control certain assets
Although your will divides your assets after you die, there are particular finances that it cannot control. It cannot change the named beneficiaries on your life insurance or retirement accounts, nor can it stop joint owners of your accounts or property from gaining ownership of shared assets. Therefore, if money exists in a joint checking account or property exists under two names, the survivor will receive these assets, regardless of the will.
You need to update a will over time
You will need to update your will and policy beneficiaries periodically to reflect your current wishes. If you undergo a divorce, you will need to remove your former spouse from your will. If you have a new child, you’ll need to add them. These changes will not occur automatically, so it is essential to update the document over time.
People can contest a will
People can contest a will if they feel that a will should have allocated more resources to them. Generally, if a will is valid, it will hold up to the challenge. In cases where it might not be valid, a probate court will determine the result of the contest. An estate attorney can review the document to ensure it is legal and accurate to avoid potential contestations after a person dies.
It is vital to establish a will in the event of your untimely death, especially as COVID-19 death tolls continue to climb in the United States. When writing a will, follow your state requirements to ensure that it holds up under scrutiny after you pass away. It is essential to keep your will updated to reflect your wishes over time accurately. Where there’s a will, there’s a way to see your final wishes carried out.