The Benefits of Preparing a Will Early

A couple sits down with a financial advisor to plan out their living will.

People don't often think about making a will before they settle their estate. It can be uncomfortable or seem unnecessary, but there are many reasons to consider preparing a will early. Having a will in place before the unforeseen happens can make it easier for your beneficiaries to get the assets you want them to receive. A living will makes it easier to plan for loved ones, have your wishes known (while still being able to change them if you want to), and crafts a set of next steps for your successors. Plus, it can help prevent your estate—and benefactors—from having to wrestle with potential legal or financial pitfalls.

The Well-Known Benefits

There are many reasons that people prepare wills before their death. Doing so can make it much easier for your loved ones to stay informed of your wishes, which can reduce confusion and uncertainty when they are already navigating the complex, emotionally fraught decisions that come with funeral preparations. If your beneficiaries are all on the same page and have a thought-out will to use as a guide, the process involved in settling your affairs becomes much easier for everyone involved. Setting up a will in advance lets you involve your beneficiaries in the process as well, which can help eliminate the potential for confusion (or even surprises) once you've passed.

Even straightforward estates can end up ensnared in legal issues. Without a will, the process by which your estate is divided among beneficiaries ends up being determined by current legal statutes, rather than what your informal wishes may have been. Although it may seem like informing your family of how you would like your estate to be handled upon your death, it's impossible to hold these conversations as ironclad directions—especially when courts are involved.

Avoiding probate court and protracted legal issues can make it easier for your executor to handle your affairs independently, and with better clarity around how and where you wanted your estate to end up. As hard as it is to have conversations about our desires when we pass on, having a will in place makes it easier for those we love to wade through a complex process while grieving. This, in and of itself, is a way of showing those who will survive us how much we care about them.

This will be a very difficult time for people, so preparing a will at all makes their job easier.

The Early Benefits

There are several benefits to preparing a will before it seems like "time," which include logistical and financial benefits. The largest benefit is financial: preparing a plan with loved ones makes it easier to set up strategies that can help your benefactors avoid penalties and unnecessary taxes. Setting up a financial plan that factors in potential estate and gift tax implications can help maximize the total that your benefactors will receive from your estate.

For example, an accelerated gifting strategy could include gifts made before your passing, which would allow you to make several payments that are below the gift tax threshold. Instead of leaving your beneficiaries with one large payment, which would likely be subjected to taxes, you can get the ball rolling early and help navigate tax considerations all the while.

The early benefits of will planning don't end at tax strategy, either. Setting up a will while you're still healthy can help ensure that your children get precisely what you want to leave for them. This is particularly helpful for small children or those who are not legally adults yet. A will that lays out exactly what you want for them will make it much easier for your wishes to be enacted and reduces the risk of interference by surviving adults or other beneficiaries. The same goes for other life changes, such as the birth of a child, divorce or separation, or the need to establish guardianship for surviving minors.

The Next Steps

The good news is that setting up a living will does not have to be an ordeal. In fact, getting the process started is typically as easy as talking to legal and financial professionals who are familiar with your estate and goals. Most wills can start from an existing set of terms and legal language, from which you can then adapt and revise in order to custom the will to your needs. Revising a will once it's written and enacted is often easy as well, with revisions being as simple as discussing changes with a legal professional. In most cases, people can change or amend their will by way of a codicil. Codicils are, roughly speaking, the equivalent of an amendment to your existing will.

If you're looking for legal assistance on your will for the first time, you may wonder how to pick the right person. Although there is a wide variety of legal professionals who can assist you in writing your will, there's often an advantage to be had by finding help from someone who is similar in age to yourself. Picking a lawyer in your own age range can help you by way of providing a perspective on priorities and goals that may mirror your own. Ultimately, you'll want to find a lawyer who has a first-hand sense of your needs, and who can grow alongside you. This will help you make changes along the way that continue to reflect what you want for your estate.

Although wills are binding legal documents, it's important to remember that your will is supposed to reflect your wishes throughout your life. You can—and should—update your will often, especially if you experience changes to your family or want to modify beneficiaries. Plus, writing a will can also kick off important conversations about financial strategies and estate planning tactics that can save your loved one's time and energy. The best time to work on your will is today: it's impossible to know what the future holds, making it vital to create a plan as quickly as possible.

The views expressed by the author are not necessarily those of Fifth Third Bank, National Association, and are solely the opinions of the author. This article is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute the rendering of legal, accounting, or other professional services by Fifth Third Bank, National Association or any of their subsidiaries or affiliates, and are provided without any warranty whatsoever. Deposit and credit products provided by Fifth Third Bank, Member FDIC.