If you’re over the age of 18 and are thinking about the right time to create a will, chances are good that the answer is “now,” or even “you should have taken care of that a while ago.” Of course, “need” is a strong word, and the importance of having a will varies depending on your circumstances. However, it’s never too soon for an adult to start thinking about estate planning, and a simple will is often the best first step.

At What Age Do I Need a Will?

While there is no specific “best age,” many Americans make a serious mistake in believing that as long as they are relatively young and healthy, there is no reason to make a will. Most people in their twenties and thirties (and forties…and fifties…) don’t want to contemplate the possibility of sudden death. That’s understandable, but can have serious consequences for survivors if the worst should happen.

Here’s some hard reality about death rates among Americans:

  • About one in 1,000 Americans in his or her 20s will die each year
  • By the time a person reaches his or her 40s, that rate has double, to about one in 500
  • Americans in their 50s die at an annual rate of about one in every 234

Of course, most of us want to believe that we have long lives ahead. And, as the numbers above indicate, most of us will. But, none of us can accurately predict who will be the one in 1,000 or one in 500. And, the cost to the loved ones of those who pass away unprepared can be significant.

If you’re asking “ Do I need a will? ” it’s probably time to have a conversation with an estate planning lawyer.

Why Do I Need a Will if I Have Few Assets?

One of the most common reasons people delay making a will is that they believe that wills are only important for those who have significant assets. Many young adults who do not own their homes and have little in the way of savings and investments don’t see the need for a will. However, there are several reasons that even a single person with few assets should have a comprehensive estate plan, including a will.

  1. A will does more than provide for distribution of assets. One important element of a will is the appointment of an administrator to manage your estate. Even if you have few assets, there will likely be many details to attend to, and someone has to take responsibility for the process. When you create a will and nominate an administrator, you ensure that someone you know and trust will manage your affairs according to your wishes. In addition, you’ll reduce the burden on your loved ones by making provisions in advance.
  2. You probably have assets you haven’t considered. Many people who say “I don’t really have anything,” actually have assets that should pass to those closest to them. One common example is retirement accounts. However, even if you don’t have assets with significant objective value, you probably have personal property that would be meaningful to your loved ones. One type of property those without wills often fail to consider is family photographs and other memorabilia. Without a trusted administrator and clear direction regarding that type of personal property, your personal effects could be lost to those who would treasure them.
  3. Intestate succession may have unexpected results. People often assume that a will isn’t necessary because the person closest to them will automatically inherit. While that is sometimes true, the law of intestate succession doesn’t always work as people expect. Unless you have thoroughly educated yourself about what will become of your property if you pass away without a will, you may be leaving the door open to an outcome you would never have chosen.

Of course, if you are young and healthy, don’t have dependents and don’t have a lot of assets, the risk associated with neglecting to write a will is relatively low. However, the cost and time investment required to write a will is slight compared with the negative consequences should you pass away unexpectedly without having made provisions. And, with each passing year, each acquisition of property, each new relationship you form, it will become increasingly important that you protect yourself and your loved ones by creating a will.