HUNTINGTON — Every year, people seldom know that August is National Make-a-Will Month, and with the scare of the COVID-19 pandemic, it may be time to consider getting a will.
A will itself is a legal document that describes the process of splitting up one’s personal property and possessions among family and loved ones. It is also usually a part of the overall estate planning process, but can be done separately.
Wills are often viewed, especially in media and fiction, as a document that only arises when one is elderly and at the end of their road. As such, one can easily assume that a will is something they’ll only need to worry about potentially decades for now, but even young adults can benefit from currently having a will.
“Having a will provides a layer of security for a client’s family and loved ones,” said Anna Price Johnson, an attorney operating out of Charleston, with Jenkins Fenstermaker PLLC. “Without a will, often times we’ll see what is essentially the death and dissolution of the family due to a lack of guidance, alongside additional costs and taxes that could have otherwise been avoided.”
The process of drafting a will itself is relatively simple and easy, and can provide a sense of comfort to individuals knowing that their final wishes and requests will ultimately be known and respected. Though it is grim to think about, everyone is mortal, and you ultimately don’t gain anything by not having a will.
The creation of most wills begins with a client reaching out to a practice, who will then usually send them a questionnaire or a similar document to fill out, which requests the spelling of their names and those of family members, as well as the items and properties they are wishing to list and divide. With that information, a meeting is set up which usually lasts an hour, where the goals of the client are listed out. Within two-to-three weeks of the initial meeting, a draft is set out of the will or estate plan, and the client returns to execute the document in front of objective witnesses and a notary.
“Life is unpredictable,” said Johnson. “It’s extremely important for young people to have wills, especially those who are unmarried or have children. For the latter, wills line out guardians for your children, which are recognized in courts in West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky. It acts as a security blanket for both you and your child.”
Should a parent not have a spouse or an assigned guardian within a will for their child, one is given the government, and is chosen by the government alone. Additionally, wills can also determine ownership of pets and the control of social media accounts.
It is common for will and estate lawyers to provide flat fees for drafting wills, often ranging anywhere from $300 to $1,200. Should this price range prove too high, there are alternatives to the traditional process.
With the rise of internet usage across the globe, several websites have come forth that offer individuals a free version of the will drafting process, allowing them to create their own personal will in an extremely short amount of time. One such site, FreeWill, launched an ad campaign earlier this month centered around Make-a-Will month, which led to a spike of 6,000 usages over the last 30 days.
“Death is an awkward topic to talk about,” said Jenny Spradling, co-founder and co-CEO of FreeWill. “People often don’t know what options are open, and they’re often scared to ask. But especially with COVID, people are beginning to realize the importance of these documents.”
While Spradling is confident in the validity of her site’s documents, she encouraged individuals with complex or large-scale plans to seek out proper estate lawyers. The consensus amongs estate lawyers, however, seems to be to avoid sites such as these entirely.
“Lawyers absolutely love these websites, because they often lead to litigation,” said Johnson. “These sites can cause a large amount of mistakes to happen in the drafting process, and that leads to law firms making far more money than they would have if the client had simply drafted the will through them.”
Regardless of the avenues used, an individual stands to gain nothing by remaining idle and not drafting their own will. It’s an ultimately beneficial process that can help preserve the relationships around them in the event of their unfortunate passing. With Make-a-Will month still going on, many agencies are providing deals and discounts that would otherwise be missed out on, making August a prime time to draft your final wishes.