The Most Important Document Ever?

Pop quiz

What do Prince, Abe Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Jimi Hendrix, Pablo Picasso, Howard Hughes, Bob Marley, Sonny Bono, Barry White, Stieg Larsson, James Brown, Steve McNair, and Michael Jackson all have in common?

Yes, as entertainers, political leaders, artists, and sports stars they were all well-known throughout the world.

But they have at least one OTHER thing in common

None of them had a will.

That meant they had no control over what became of their assets when they died.

In some cases, their loved ones were left slugging it out in court for years over who should get what.

Lots of Americans could find themselves in the same boat. In fact, according to a Gallup survey, only 44% have a will.

You might not be as well-known as Jimi Hendrix or as rich as Howard Hughes.

But that doesnt mean you dont need a will.

Heres why

If you die without a will, your home state determines what becomes of your assets.

For instance, heres what happens here in California

Form 1

Worse, if you dont have a family, the state will gladly put your assets into its coffers!

Moreover, without a will you dont have a say in who will be the executor of your estate the person responsible for paying off any debts and dividing up your assets.

Do you have minor children? The question could then become who gets them!

You might assume that if you and your spouse both unexpectedly died, that your childs grandparents or another close relative would take them in.

But suppose others come out of the woodwork, claiming you wanted them to raise your children if you were no longer around?

Maybe a nice sum of money is involved life insurance, retirement savings, etc.

The whole thing could end up in court very quickly.

A judge would have to pick who your kids go home with. Or the judge might decide that both parties are unfit and appoint a professional guardian.

There is absolutely no reason to risk any of this.

You can avoid leaving your family with messes like that with one simple piece of paper.

Within a will you can name who would care for your minor child if something happened to you. That person would be his or her guardian.

You could also choose who would handle the childs financial affairs an asset manager or conservator.

It can be the same person as the guardian or someone different.

A court must approve your choices but would most likely honor your wishes.

And again, without a will, you have basically left the decision on who will assume responsibility for your child, as well as managing any money you left behind, to the court.

Just know that some things can trump a will

The probate court supervises assets that are transferred according to your will. It also reviews creditors claims against your estate.

But regardless of what is in your will, or even if you dont have one, at your death some of your assets transfer directly to the beneficiaries you had named in other places.

For example:

Property youve moved to a trustLife insurance proceedsAnnuitiesIRAs, 401(k)s, and other retirement accountsSecurities held in a transfer-on-death (TOD) accountOr property you own with someone else in joint tenancy or as community property with the right of survivorship

All of that stuff would follow unique sets of rules. Just as an illustration, the IRAs would go to the beneficiaries you named when you set up the accounts.

So its as simple as this

Get with an attorney familiar with your states laws to draft a will that follows your wishes on who:

Receives your assets after you dieBecomes the executor of your estateAnd takes care of any minor children

Obviously, you can also make like the famous people I named earlier and leave everything up to a judge.

But from where I sit, putting a will in place is a far better choice.

To a richer life,

Nilus Mattive

Nilus Mattive
Editor, Rich Life Roadmap