Making a will is one of the smartest “rainy day” projects that any parent could undertake. Though it might not seem exciting to you, the stakes are high and your family’s future – as well as your legacy – hang in the balance.

If you don’t have a will, you are not alone: 55% of all Americans do not have a will. To me, this is shocking because I was raised in a house where the topic of wills was discussed freely, and every member of the family knew where to look for the will itself as well as important supporting documents. Were anything to happen to my parents, there would have been no doubt as to who would have been our guardian and who would manage the family property if we were too young.

Another thing to consider is that depending on which state the family resides in, the deceased spouse’s estate may not be transferred to the surviving spouse by default.

Putting together a will does require a significant amount of documentation, but it’s nothing most people can’t manage:

  • Names, addresses, and birthdays for the people you want to fill certain roles
  • Who your child/children’s guardian will be
  • Who the executor or executors of your estate will be
  • A backup executor, if the first one can’t do it
  • Other legal documents you have – a divorce decree or prenup
  • A list of assets: real estate, bank accounts, investments, life insurance policies, pensions, vehicles, boats, jewelry, or antiques

Important note: Pensions are not affected by wills. If you have a pension, the beneficiary you have designated will override anything and everything that your will states.

My last piece of advice is regarding how your will is prepared: Do not rely on computer programs to draft a document with such long-term ramifications as your will. Trust and estate attorneys can understand you much better, and their expertise comes in shades of grey rather than the black and white thinking of a computer.

Are your instructions carefully articulated in a solid will?

Judith Heft, Principal, Judith Heft & Associates is a personal financial concierge with offices in Greenwich and Stamford. She can be contacted via email at or by phone 203-978-1858.