What are the odds you don't have a will? Best guess is that 50% of us don't have one. For some folks, that may be OK -- especially if they're single, have nothing, and own nothing.

But if you do have kids, you need a will for the simple fact that if you don't have one, the state will decide who raises your kids.

That's the reality in the absence of any written direction from you. Ditto if you're in a different circumstance, living without the benefit of marriage. In many cases, your partner will not be considered to inherit your estate unless you put it in writing.

Won't my spouse automatically get everything I have?

People automatically assume that all assets would go to their spouse upon death. But it doesn't play that way. The reality is that the law varies by state. When you die without a will, the state decides who gets what. For example, below is how it works in Georgia, the state where I live. I'm quoting from Nolo.com, a great free resource I love for all things legal:

"In Georgia, if you are married and you die without a will, what your spouse gets depends on whether or not you have living descendants -- children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren. If you don’t, then your spouse inherits all of your intestate property. If you do, they and your spouse will share your intestate property equally, except that your spouse’s share cannot be less than 1/3."

Of course, the specifics are different in every state. But in general, the state decides who gets what, often by statute done by the state legislature. The percent of people with family and no will is huge. Here are numbers from a recent survey reported in the New York Post:  

  • 80% of people between the ages of 35 - 44 have no will.
  • Some half of all married people have no will.
  • 41% of people between the ages of 55 - 64 have no will.

Those are ticking time bomb numbers. Nobody wants to face the possibility that we're all going to croak. But none of us are immortal. Someday we are not going to make it. Hopefully, we'll have a long healthy life. But there's always the unexpected.

Here are some simple ways to get a will done online

Some people use the excuse that doing a will is too complicated and too expensive for them to undertake. I don't buy that.

It's true that if you have a complicated life -- maybe you own your own business and have built up a lot of assets or you have a blended family -- you'll need to go see a lawyer who specializes in wills, estates, and trusts.

However, if you have a simple situation, I like the WillMaker software that you can pay around $50 to use through Nolo.com. They do a great job of asking interactive questions to guide you through the will completion process. If you don't like WillMaker, LegalZoom.com would be another way to get it done on the cheap.

If you get confused along the way as you're doing your will with an online service, I advise you to stop and see a lawyer. But if you want to just push through for piece of mind, it is much cheaper to have a lawyer review the will you've self-prepared than to actually prepare one for you from scratch.

Lawyers get antsy when I talk about this because they think about every disaster that's ever happened when people have self-prepared a will. But the biggest disaster is not having a will at all.

So what about you? Make sure those you leave behind are well taken care of.

A cautionary tale from the Robin Williams estate

Doing a will is something you either have to be guilted into doing, or you have to hear a horror story about somebody's else experience. Think about Robin Williams, who died tragically by his own hand. Now there's battle royale over his estate because his will was not clear enough in doling out his assets.

So who's going to make all the money? The lawyers. His survivors will get some, of course, but a huge amount will go toward the lengthy courtroom battles.

Now the people who are hurting in that family from his loss will hurt more as the long knives come out. Don't let this be you. Get a will in place today.


Image of Clark Howard About the author: Clark Howard

Clark Howard is a consumer expert whose goal is to help you keep more of the money you make. His national radio show and website show you ways to put more money in your pocket, with advice you can trust. View More Articles

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