You are over 18. You have not created a will or any estate plan documents. Or, you have but they are outdated. Why? We have heard nearly all the reasons. Here are a few of them, along with some thoughts for you to consider.
I don’t have enough money or property to need a will.
Really? You don’t have $250 worth of property? Because that is the minimum you and your family will lose if you die without a will. A will specifies how you want your affairs and property handled when you die and will save your family the stress and expense of trying to guess. More important than property, a will is the best way to name guardians for your children. It’s also the way to ensure that an inheritance will not be wasted or lost to third parties. Most important of all, the process of making a will helps you identify and achieve goals during your life.
I can’t afford to pay for a will.
Good legal services are not cheap and cheap legal services are not good. The belief that people cannot afford a will arises from thinking a will is an expense rather than an investment designed to protect family and minimize loss. People who think of wills as an expense sometimes ask an attorney they already know for help, even though that attorney does not specialize in wills. Other people try to spend even less by attempting to do it themselves. But the cost of a properly prepared will that matches your needs is much, much less than the cost of going through life and the probate process without good documents in place. Even if there is ultimately no loss of assets, the cost of fixing problems later – if they can be fixed – will be many times the cost of creating a good plan now.
I’ve already named my spouse/children/someone else as beneficiary(ies) on my life insurance/retirement account/bank account/annuity.
This is perhaps the most common excuse for no estate planning. If you are married and your spouse or children are named directly as beneficiaries on accounts such as these, you may avoid probate but will likely complicate things for your family and could lose important tax benefits. The federal estate tax exemption – the amount you may leave to heirs free of federal tax – changes regularly. Currently, you may leave an unlimited amount of money too your spouse tax-free, but this is not necessarily the best tactic. Naming account beneficiaries without understanding your options may be the worst plan of all.
It will be a windfall to my spouse/children/another family member if I die, so I’ll let them take care of it.
The question is not if, but when. Aside from this, you need to understand that a failure or refusal to plan means that you are stuck with what’s called the law of “intestate succession”. That means in Virginia that if you die without an estate plan, your spouse gets everything unless you have children who are not also your spouse’s children. If you are single or widowed, your children get everything equally at age 18, which may lead to misunderstandings among them or wasted money because assets must be liquidated and divided. Apart from questions about children and spouses, these ancient rules have no consideration for blended families and laws are even hostile toward families legislators have deemed to be not within a “traditional” marriage. Without directions in a will, a court has the option to appoint someone you wouldn’t want to take care of things or order an auction of your personal property, which costs money and means that your property can be sold to strangers. Wouldn’t you like to avoid these problems? The rules are flexible and provide many opportunities for benefitting you and your family as long as you plan in advance.
We all believe we are. And we agree that the odds are against you dying in the next five years (the period in which changes in your family or the laws might make you want to adjust a part of your plan. Although few plans need major adjustments it is important to review them from time to time). But “not highly likely” is not the same as “it won’t happen”. You exercise and watch your diet because you know those are good ideas – even though your diet or blood pressure aren’t likely to kill you within the next five years, either. Now is the time to address the need for an estate plan.
I’m going to leave everything to my spouse/one of my children/another family member and they can be responsible for ensuring my wishes are met.
That might work. “Might” being the key word. Is it possible that your spouse/children could remarry? Do your family members drive? Do they have debts, loans, investments or business interests? Questions like these are important because leaving everything to one person means you are putting your inheritance at the mercy of people you haven’t met, creditors and the choices individuals may make in circumstances you cannot know. Have you thought about what will happen if the person you leave your property to dies, leaving your entire inheritance to someone else or a group of other people? Will they feel the same obligation to take care of your family as you do?
I’ll get around to it.
OK – when? There are basic elements of an estate plan – such as an advance medical directive and a power of attorney – that unlike a will only work during your life. Statistically we are all likely to be disabled at some point (even temporarily) and without these simple and inexpensive documents in place it will be difficult and may be impossible to take care of your family, manage your property, pay your bills and arrange for medical care without expensive and time-consuming court proceedings.
I knew someone who died with a will and there was still a lot of red tape.
There will be some difficulties with bureaucracy. But you can minimize the hassle and expense with careful planning.
I don’t like lawyers.
This objection is understandable. Every profession has people in it that shouldn’t be there and lawyers are in a long list of people with whom we’d rather not have to deal but we do (or we should): doctors, dentists, mechanics, financial advisors, veterinarians, plumbers. We understand that if we avoid our doctor when we are sick it will lead to bad results. The same thing is true for the mechanic when our car needs maintenance or repairs and for every other type of service profession.
Lawyers listen to your needs and wishes and based on the information you provide we give you the best advice about what you should do and how we can help. Estate planning lawyers like people and want to hear your stories so that you can benefit from our specialized expertise. Give us the opportunity to help you start living better today.
trust, power of attorney or advance medical directive
(health care power of attorney) visit http://clintsellers.com or call 540.437.9400
Based on a post from the AZ firm of Fleming & Curti, PLC.