I was 17 when I was in my first major car accident. I was turning left out of a blind zone, unable to see a large pickup truck barreling at 50 mph straight at me. He T-boned me right on the driver’s side, only a foot from where I sat. I still remember the feeling of everything slowing down, the world getting quiet and loud all at the same time, the contents of my bookbag spilling out on the crushed floor of the back seat . . .
But the accident I was in only a few months ago wasn’t like that at all. I was at a complete stop, ready to turn right, when another truck plowed into my bumper. He pushed my sedan into oncoming traffic. But thankfully the light had already changed, and no one was coming in my direction. It was the definition of a minor car accident.
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Still, as I sat in the ambulance being checked for damage to my neck and spine, I started to panic. This wasn’t like the first accident at all. I was in no danger of dying. My car was completely drivable. The only thing dinged up was my bumper. But something else was different, too, this time around.
A rush of thoughts crossed my mind as I imagined what would have happened if the driver pushed me moments earlier. Would I have needed more than a quick trip to the ER? Would I have needed to be airlifted, with a long recovery period to follow? Would I have died?
Realizing Why I Need a Will
A lawyer friend of mine called this my “aha moment.”
It’s the time when you realized that you're not that 17-year-old kid who can just go about life as usual after a catastrophe strikes. There are people who you need to call, people who need to know what to do in your absence. And you need to have some directives in case the worst does happen.
My friend was, of course, clueing me into a piece of personal finance that I've been putting off: my will.
I don’t know why my husband and I have been slow to act on writing our wills. Maybe we’ve been too focused on paying down debt to consider what would happen. Maybe we’ve been avoiding a dark and depressing conversation about what we want when we die. Or maybe we’ve been young, lazy, and uneducated. It’s probably a combo.
But this accident brought in some urgency. And my unwillingness to talk about death drove away in the ambulance I sat in.
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How Does a Will Work?
A will, for most singles and couples, is a simple document. It directs where your property, cash, and benefits should go when you pass. It may include a power of attorney if you’re unable to make medical decisions for yourself. And when you pass, it will help ensure that your will's executors understand your final wishes for a funeral or memorial.
If you’re a parent like me, a will dictates what happens to your children. It names a person to become your child’s guardian — essentially raising them where you left off. For many couples, this can be the hardest part of the will. However, it’s worth the potential of awkward or depressing talks.
I was shocked to find out that I was among a whopping 78 percent of millennials who don't to have a will, according to a Caring.com study. And I’m in the 64 percent of American parents with children under 18 who don't have any estate-planning documents written up. This is a majority I no longer wish to be a part of.
How to Create a Will
Luckily for me, creating a will is rather painless and inexpensive (between $50 and $100). DIY will-creation programs are pretty cheap, considering the cost benefit.
These programs are ideal for those with simple estates like mine, where there isn’t much regarding property or net worth (yet). Still, you may need to enlist the help of a lawyer to ensure that everything is legal and covered.
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For those with blended families, substantial assets or property, or children with special needs, an estate planning expert and lawyer may be a necessity. An extensive will or directive may run upwards of $1,000 and may take several long meetings to lock down. That said, the price is worth it to know that what you have built is protected long after you’re gone.
Why Do I Need a Will? The Bottom Line
It shouldn’t have taken me two car crashes to get my act together and create a relatively simple document that would outlive me.
A will is an essential piece of the personal finance puzzle that you can't overlook, especially considering what's at stake and who may be affected. Take some time today to think about the future and make the vital investment in your estate planning.