Life

COVID-19 motivating more people to write a will

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Photo illustration

Writing a will is not difficult.

“People are shocked by how simple it is,” said Sarah Thielen, an associate attorney at Shuttleworth & Ingersoll in Cedar Rapids.

Many people put off writing a will, she said, assuming it will be a lengthy process.

But an estate planning meeting typically takes 30 minutes to an hour, and the planning can be done virtually, said Thielen, 28.

Some attorneys might ask clients to fill out pre-meeting paperwork to get an overview of their priorities and assets, but Thielen doesn’t require that.

“We sit down and talk through a list of questions,” she said.

Put simply, a will designates who your possessions go to when you die.

For people with minor children, a will also designates caretakers, which is one reason why most of Thielen’s clients are people who are about to have children or who have young children.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, though, she’s noticed an uptick in interest from other age groups.

Working with an attorney on your will is a good idea, whether there’s a pressing issue or not, Thielen said.

“Everyone should consider making a will,” Thielen said. “It’s a good way to make sure you have control of what would happen.”

If you die without a will, Iowa law dictates the distribution of your assets. For some people, that might work. One example is a single person with no children whose parents are still living. In that case, possessions go to the parents.

“Some people might say that’s fine for them,” Thielen said.

For others, a will is a must.

If you have a blended family, for example, the law might not reflect your wishes or include everyone in your blended family. Having a will also can prevent family arguments after you’re not around to referee or make your wishes known.

“Emotions run high after a death in the family,” Thielen said. “Put your wishes on paper.”

Wills also allow people to add details, such as specifying ages for your children to inherit your assets or specifying caretakers for your pets.

The fee for estate planning varies based on the attorney’s rate. Typically, a will costs Thielen’s clients between $600 and $800.

If you aren’t quite ready to make that investment, Thielen recommends at least working with a lawyer to create a power of attorney document, which specifies who can make financial and health care decisions for you if you are still living but unable to communicate your wishes. That document costs about half what a will costs.

If you’re creating a will, a power of attorney document is typically included in the planning.

Also, Thielen said, when you’re ready to write your will, it’s a good idea to find an attorney who specializes in estate planning.

“We can catch loopholes and help avoid future headaches,” she said.

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Making a will might not be the most exciting thing on your to-do list, but Thielen said you’ll be glad when you get it done.

“It can give you a lot of peace of mind.”

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