Everyone needs a will. We know we don’t like to think about: “Oh, my goodness, I might die at some point,” but we all need to address this; because if you don’t do it and set out what your wishes are, then it will go by state law. That may not be what you’re trying to do. And it’s really a simple thing to do in the state of Mississippi. It’s actually legal if you write it out by hand and sign it at the bottom. Do a little extra and have a neighbor witness it. Keep it in a safe place. And that is a legal document, and your estate can be divided up based on it. It’s very simple.
You can also go to online services that help you based on your state to set up a will. Again, it’s all by state law. I prefer talking to a local attorney, because often when you sit down a with a local attorney (it usually doesn’t cost that much to do that—typically, $500 or less, call and ask), they will then ask the questions that maybe you have not thought about—about how you want your estate to be divided up. They’ll talk to you about your particular family situations. Of course, we’re seeing more and more blended families, and so those complications come into play.
You really need to say: This is what I want to happen after I die. And it’s very important that you name an executor. This is the person who will actually be in charge of making sure all the bills are paid, making sure that everything is distributed based on your will. So this needs to be someone you can really trust.
You need to update a list of your accounts maybe once a year. Keep a list of account numbers and contact information. You can keep it in a safe place. You can just hand a copy to your executor or email them a copy so that they have it on file in case they need to make those contacts and start working on things.
Keep copies of all your beneficiary forms, because, remember, anything you have a beneficiary on does not go through your will. It is divided up based on that beneficiary form. Insurance policies, retirement accounts, IRAs, 401(k)s, and those accounts we call TODs or PODs, meaning Transfer on Death or Pass on Death. Those are legal in the state of Mississippi. These mean that you can take any account and put a beneficiary on that account so that does not go through the will. It’s a faster way for your heirs to then get those assets. Any time you have a life change, that can affect those beneficiaries, and people will forget what they have on there.
We used to have the old living will—that’s no longer valid in Mississippi. So in order to specify what you want to have happen in terms of life support or feeding tubes, you need a Medical Power of Attorney. Most of these are pretty boiler plate. You can sit down, again, with a local attorney. It’s kind of a checkbox: this is what I want in each situation. That way, no one has to make those difficult decisions for you. They can look at what your wishes are.
With all of these documents, you need to make sure you keep them in a very safe place: a safe deposit box or a fireproof box in your house. Again, that named executor needs to know where they are, and they need to have a key so they can get to all that material.