The Document Formerly Known as Will - by Daniel L. O’Neil

by News Editor
in Blog
on 02 May 2016
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The recent death of the music artist Prince - as with all high profile celebrity deaths and those closest to us as friends, family, and neighbors in the community – brings to bear the importance of having a proper estate plan in place.

Estate plans and Wills are not just for the filthy rich – they matter more for the middle class (for different reasons) than they do for the mega rich.

The numbers change based on publication, but most recently quoted the number that 70% of adult Americans are living and breathing without a Will today. Prince was super rich and the rumor (based on court filings from his family) is that he did not leave behind a Will. The cost of the Will itself is usually never the burden since it is a small investment to make today to prevent costly, frustrating problems down the road for the heirs you leave behind.

An oft-repeated objection to beginning the Estate Planning process is that it is uncomfortable to contemplate your own mortality – you are dealing with the meaningful life questions like how did you live, what didn’t you do you could have, who is going to judge you, and where are you going at the end of the day. These are all significant questions of life and while the answer to some of them might be ‘42’ that is probably not the answer to all of them.

Another popular objection is that most people feel like they can put it off another day since they are in fine health now – yet it is the accidents and unexpected illnesses and injuries we don’t plan for that can remove all capacity to participate in crafting an estate plan and executing a Will. Time is something we have no control over if we wait to see what happens to us and we hope that nothing bad happens. I say this in a number of different contexts throughout the course of a week but when it is time it is time and time stops for no man (or woman or nonbinary.)

Yet another frequently heard objection is that everyone in the family gets along so they are not worried about it. Most families do get along … until money is involved. The entire history of Estate Planning and probate is filled with war stories and examples of how many types of families do not get along with each other when money is on the table. While no Estate Planning lawyer can guarantee that a certain family member won’t contest your Will at the end of the day, precautions can be taken to secure the best evidence possible that you were participating in crafting the estate plan, you knew what you were doing, you were free from undue influence, and you had the opportunity to change your mind but the documents as prepared were what you wanted. In the event your Will does get challenged all of that evidence is helpful. If you do your own Will at home writing it in crayon on a cocktail napkin or buy it online from an out-of-state document assembly shop for $20 there is no guarantee it was done right, that it is valid, or that you have documented anything.

And the last common objection we hear is from childless, unmarried individuals who think Estate Planning is only for married people and people with kids, the life insurance industry’s “ideal customer.” However, there are countless benefits for an unmarried person to have a comprehensive estate plan which includes medical and financial powers of attorney, as well as a Directive to Physicians. If you are unmarried there isn’t the “default favored person” spouse to tend to you if you become incapacitated or disabled; and especially to tend to your estate when you pass away. This is why it is essential for people without kids and that are unmarried to start appointing fiduciaries they trust to take over when they need to take over for you when you can no longer voice your own desires. For our friends and neighbors in the GLBTI community this is still very important Post-Obergefell if you have not yet married your companion, your boyfriend/girlfriend etc. is a legal stranger to you and them explaining the nature of your romantic relationship to hospital administration (in the healthcare aspect) or to the bank (for the financial aspect) is not going to be effective – unless they are the named fiduciary on properly executed forms.

Wills and comprehensive estate plans protect your family: whatever your family unit looks like. Wills and estate plans help facilitate the orderly transfer of family wealth, regardless of how many dollars and cents are in your estate. Wills and estate plans help preserve your legacy in the community. Wills and estate plans prevent additional unnecessary, costly, and frustrating hearings and paperwork you can avoid easily with a small investment today in Estate Planning services to prevent much larger expenses (and uncertainties) down the line. It is easy to avoid intestacy if you are willing to invest a little time and a little money to opt-out of the law of intestacy with a much better plan you participate in crafting.

Dying intestate and letting the family or other interested parties (such as creditors) you leave behind battle it out in court is not the kind of legacy you should want to leave behind. If you have minor children and did not designate a preferred guardian, someone you might have never wanted involved with raising your kids might be making all of the financial and personal care decisions for your children. If you were not on good terms and didn’t want certain people in your family to get any of your stuff, they might get all of it. If you had wanted to leave something to a charity, that doesn’t happen in an intestate administration. You can solve all of these problems (and more) by boarding the Estate Planning train and executing a valid Will as part of a larger comprehensive estate plan.

Please give us a call if we can start helping put your affairs in order so your children, your family, and your property is properly sorted the way you want it.


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