If you die “intestate,” meaning without having a legal will, state laws dictate how your assets will be distributed. (iStock)
Columnist

Don’t have a will?

Then let me ask you this: Do you love your family?

Because, if you love and care about them and want to minimize the drama that you may leave after you die, you would get a will. And I don’t mean something done on the computer that you sign and stuff in a folder.

Actually, you have a will, just not one that you created. If you die “intestate,” meaning without having a legal will, state laws dictate how your assets will be distributed.

Here’s a link on Nolo.com where you can see, according to your state’s law, who is entitled to your assets if you die without creating a will.

Folks, this task is too important to put off. I get that you may be busy. I understand you’re concerned about the cost. Or, you may be avoiding it because you aren’t sure who’s the best person to be a guardian for your children. But an important part of your financial planning, especially if you’re near or in retirement, is getting a will.

Just do it.

My online live discussion last week was devoted to answering reader questions about estate planning. My guest was Lynn Loughlin Skerpon, a former register of wills and practicing attorney with the firm of O’Malley, Miles, Nylen & Gilmore in Maryland.

Here are some answers to questions Skerpon couldn’t get to during the chat.

Q: I am single, 59 years old and I do not currently have a will and do not live in the same state as my three siblings. I own a home. I have listed one sister as beneficiary on my financial accounts with hopes that she will “share” with the other two. I do not want my home to be a problem with my siblings. What is your advice?

Skerpon: Please do not count on your sister sharing. She may and that is very nice, but that is not legally enforceable. Please do a will!

Q: I created a document for my spouse with all of our accounts, logons and passwords. We have a copy at home and a copy in our safe-deposit box. The document includes details of our personal finances and my work benefits. The front page has contact information (email, phone, physical address). The rest of the document has details about our finances and my recommendations for handling, if I pass away first. We review it every year or so to answer any questions or to update the document. What do you think?

Skerpon: Your “recommendations for handling” makes me nervous. It does not sound like you have a valid will, which is the only way you can enforce your wishes, other than named beneficiaries, joint ownership, and TOD (transfer on death accounts).

For more information read: Pros and Cons of Using TOD Accounts to Avoid Probate: What to Know About Transfer on Death Accounts

Q: I am of modest financial means. How can I minimize the costs of wills and other necessary legal instruments needed for helping my family through unexpected, premature deaths or incapacity?

Skerpon: Don’t be afraid to ask attorneys what their projected fees are. But bear in mind that the cheapest may not be the best. Any information you can gather in advance will save the attorney time (names, addresses, phone numbers, etc.) Also some states have recommended statutory forms (power of attorney, etc.) that you can find online. But if you do not understand them, please consult an attorney! It is money well spent!

Despite my pleading, a number of my relatives didn’t have a will. Things didn’t go well. Here are some columns I hope will inspire you to take get your affairs in order.

The terrible cost of not having a will

Put your estate plan on paper before it’s too late

Do your family a favor and plan your estate

“If you find yourself out of an inheritance because there was no will, don’t transfer your anger, disappointment or hurt to heirs who do get the assets. You have to find peace with the fact that if the deceased wanted a different outcome, he or she should have taken the time to make it so.”

Here’s a very helpful article written by Geoff Williams for U.S. News and World Report: 10 Steps to Writing a Will

NerdWallet’s Liz Weston provides more information on the cost of doing a will yourself or seeking help from a professional.

Read: You Can Do Your Own Estate Plan, But Should You?

The following columns hit a nerve with a lot of people.

Should a needy adult child get more in the parents’ will?

What do your parents owe you when they die?

Your Thoughts

Have you had an experience where a relative didn’t have a will? Was there drama? Did you have a situation where having a will kept things civil? Send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Please include your name, city and state. Put “Estate Planning” in the subject line.

Retirement Rants and Raves

I’m interested in your experiences or concerns about retirement or aging. What do you like about retirement? What came as a surprise?

If you haven’t retired yet, what concerns you financially?

You can rant or rave. This space is yours. It’s a chance for you to express what’s on your mind. Send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Please include your name, city and state. In the subject line put “Retirement Rants and Raves.”

Earl Roethke of Minneapolis wrote, “My number one concern regarding my upcoming retirement is inflation. The enormous tax giveaway is fueling a rapid increase in federal debt, and sooner or later, the piper will come calling. There was no need to pump extra money into an economy that was already running hot.”

Holly Doyon of Ipswich, Mass., wrote, “I see no reason to retire. I am 63, work from home and love what I do. To me, the day you retire is the day that you start worrying about how you are going to live, at poverty level, on Social Security. I worry a lot about being able to stay in my own home. The alternative is selling the house and renting, in town, but the current rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $1,200 to $1,500 per month. I plan to work as long as I can.”

“So far I like retirement,” wrote Michael Chesser of Aiken, S.C. “The main thing for me is freedom from the stress of work, including having to constantly deal with people I don’t like. I was a lawyer in a small town; we have to kowtow to the judge and to various others. It’s good to be free from that. Reading is not suggested as a hobby for retirement, so I’m told, but I am reading up a storm, good history and some literature. No health insurance! I’m 61 soon to be 62. I just have to make it to 65.”

An early retirement is doable. Here’s how.

This is what Americans think is the ideal age to retire. It’s older than you may want.

If you’re viewing this post online sign up to automatically receive Michelle Singletary’s newsletters right into your email box: “Your Retirement” on Mondays and “Personal Finance” on Thursdays

Read and share Michelle Singletary’s Color of Money Column on Wednesdays and Sundays in The Washington Post. You may also see the column in your local newspaper.

Follow Michelle Singletary on Twitter @SingletaryM and Facebook.