The number one reason I hear people say that they don’t have a will is because they can’t agree on who should be the guardian(s) of their young children. Regardless of the reason, people without wills are at risk of having their estate divided according to a template set forth by the state — and their children’s future in the hands of the court system.

Once you have a will, you can’t just file it away and forget about it. Heirs may die; heirs may be born; etc. That’s why it’s vital to update your will whenever you go through a life event, such as:

  • Getting married or having children. Are step-children involved?
  • A death in the family
  • Your heirs have changed
  • Getting divorced

It is especially important for unmarried partners living together to make sure they have a will in place. Even if a couple had been faithfully “living in sin” for 50 years, neither one will have any rights to the other’s estate if it is not spelled out in a will.

Then there are the instruments with named beneficiaries like IRAs, pensions, and insurance policies. These all take precedence over a will. People often neglect to update their named beneficiaries, and the result is the assets being inherited according to a formula.

If you’re moving to another state, laws vary and you will need to get your estate documents in compliance with your adopted state. While you’re at your attorney’s office getting that done, consider also getting an advanced directive, such as a health care proxy, living will, or power of attorney.

Considering how important all of these documents are, do yourself a favor and don’t go to LegalZoom or use any similar products. Hire a trusts and estates attorney. The amount of money you spend hiring a lawyer is often less than dealing with the consequences of buying a template-driven will online.

Is your will current? Share your experiences in the comments section!