<i>The following is a commentary written by Joan Vasey, editor for Fort Huachuca's "Scout." </i>

FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz. (Army News Service, Jan. 25, 2007) - There is a commercial on television that shows an older woman depositing quarters into a parking meter and talking about how wonderful it would be if we could do this for additional increments of time added to our lives. The more quarters we put into the "life meter," the more time we could buy.

Though most of us envision our eventual passing will be due to illness during old age or death in our sleep, most of us have no real way of knowing exactly when our time will come. This is something each of us needs to accept.

During our lives, we accumulate money, property and possessions. We also marry, have children and develop other significant relationships. We assume that in the event of our passing, those we love will inherit the things we leave behind and will be taken care of through life insurance and other policies. But is this always so'

The law is very specific as to the chain of inheritance in the event of unexpected death and varies from state to state. Generally, the spouse and children receive the assets in state-determined percentages. In most cases, assets of those who are single pass on to parents, or siblings if the parents are deceased. In the case of insurance policies and retirement savings, money usually passes to the designated beneficiary upon death.

Having a current will is the best way to assure that property will be distributed according to your wishes in the event of your death. In the common law, a will or testament is a document by which a person (the testator) regulates the rights of others over his or her property or family after death.

A will allows a person to express his or her wishes and to make specific bequests and to include stepchildren, fiancees, friends and others who do not fall under the bequest system. Plus, a will allows an individual to name executors, guardians for children and trustees for the estate should one be needed, and to designate planners for a large or complex estate.

While not everyone needs a will, it is to most people's advantage to have one and to keep it current. Since we've just begun a new year, this is a good time to create one or update older ones should a life situation have changed since the previous one was crafted. Divorce, remarriage, adoption, death of an heir or other such changes would certainly warrant an updated will.

Years ago, obtaining wills could be quite costly. However, today it's possible to purchase a will kit from most stationery, discount stores or office supply houses. There are also a number of canned will preparation programs on the internet. Type "wills" on your favorite search engine, perform the search and you'll receive thousands of links to potential sites. From there, it's easy to download the forms and instructions and prepare a will on your own. Be sure to completely follow all of the instructions.

Preparing a will leads to peace of mind, whether it be a simple will on a prepared form or one executed with the help of experts. It will protect your loved ones and provide for property distribution in the manner you choose upon event of your death.

For more information or help writing a will, contact your local Staff Judge Advocate Office.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16