Do I really need a will?
It’s a question asked throughout time – “Do I really need a will?” A question that isn’t easy to answer.
Wills aren’t required by law. People can, and do, pull kits off the internet and fill in the blanks. Is it effective? Done properly? Only time will tell.
For those that ask us the question, we say yes. Not because it’s what we do. But rather that it gives you the opportunity to outline things if you pass away. Deal with the present. Plan for the future. Use your thoughts and ideas to create a road map. That way the folks left behind have an idea of what you’d like done, etc.
Effects of passing without a will
People don’t always understand what happens if there’s no will. State Law controls how assets are divvied. They’re called the “Laws of Intestacy,” and may differ slightly between states. Not much, though.
Those with a spouse and kids are most often caught off guard. You see, if a person dies and leaves a spouse and kids behind, the spouse and kids will each get a share depending on the estate value. If the kids are under 18, the court will require trusts established. Costs and expenses of administration are, therefore, higher than normal.
Role in the estate plan
To us, an “estate plan” is a plan that addresses you and your assets. Typically consisting of a will, health care proxy, HIPAA form, living will, and Durable Power Of Attorney. It sounds formal, leading folks to say they don’t need one. Nevertheless, the will is the main component in most cases.
Do I need to share my personal info?
Anyone that wants an effective plan needs to be open about what he, she or they own. How they own it. Who are the beneficiaries, if applicable. Where they want the assets to go, and in what percentages.
Without disclosure a will leaves gaps in your plan. No will is foolproof. You can always defeat the will’s intended effects. For example, taking title jointly or using beneficiary designations makes assets pass outside the will’s control. (No, a will cannot trump a life insurance or retirement account beneficiary destination).
What are the benefits?
Remember, a will controls assets in your estate. Your estate consists of assets in your name alone at death. Not jointly held property or assets paid according to a beneficiary designate. Therefore, as to the estate assets a will can:
- Direct and divide estate assets
- Ensure estate assets stay in the blood line
- Create a “class gift” amongst a certain group; the survivors share in the assets
- Create trusts for kids and grandkids
- Create a supplemental needs trust
- Create trusts for tax planning
- Create charitable trusts
In terms of selecting one or more people, or institutions, to call the shots, a will can:
- Name an executor
- Name a trustee
- Nominate a guardian
- Nominate an investment or business advisor
Overall, a will can do more than you think. You simply need to open up, and allow us to understand what you have, how you hold it, and where you want it to go. We’ll do the rest.
Do you explain the will?
Yes. Any firm you deal with should do the same. If not, you may not want to sign.
Your plan should be the result of an initial meeting – the “intake.” Draft and review. Then execution. We sometimes review over the phone if a client can’t make it into the office. Face-to-face meetings often work best.
We do not want you to sign a will unless you understand: it’s purpose; language, at least from a broad perspective; key provisions; and, key players. Assuming we’re on the same page, the will is ultimately signed as part of a “ceremony” in front of the attorney and witness(es).
How can you get started?
Making a call or email is the first step. We offer a free consultation, which usually rolls into the “intake” mentioned above. For that meeting you should have a list of your assets, estimated value of each, how they’re held (by what company and in what form – individually, jointly, retirement account, etc.). Bringing in statements often helps.
Names and addresses of your intended beneficiaries, and key people help too. This way we can draft without inserting “blanks.” The roles most often filled are: executor, alternate executor, trustee, alternate trustee, guardian(s), and alternate guardian.