Just in case something more exciting pops up before you get through the first paragraph (I know, hard to imagine), here’s what you need to know. An estate plan is not some momentous, set-in-stone, series of incomprehensible legal documents but rather a living, breathing family protection plan that, once put in place, can be easily updated along your life’s journey. So don’t let its seeming complexity or perceived finality stop you from moving forward.
That being said, a will is the cornerstone of such a plan and whether or not you need one is situation specific and highly personal. In some cases, it’s okay to wait. However, not having one when you should is fraught with risk and can put your family’s future in jeopardy. Even worse, the absence of a will can lead to results that run counter to what you would have wanted for your family if you were given the choice (more on that in a bit).
Can I get by without a will?
I get this question a lot and I’ve written about it more extensively in another article entitled, “Is a Do-it-Yourself Will Right for Me?” But here’s the two-sentence answer - if you’re married, have kids, own a home, and/or invest in a retirement plan that isn’t centered on selling mint condition Star Wars figures for money, it’s probably time to take greater measures in protecting the financial security of your loved ones.
Then why do people who need a will delay getting one?
Around 70% of Americans have no will in place (or any other planning for that matter). Why?
Most people don’t want to think about getting a will because they see it as a depressing topic…. contemplating the end, and all that. That’s a perfectly natural reaction but at GuideOn Legal Services, estate planning is something different - a life-embracing way of protecting your family and projecting your values, dreams and goals forward with long-lasting effect. The GuideOn Legal Services motto, Live Long, End Strong™ epitomizes this full life-cycle approach. It starts with the end in mind, and then builds a lifetime and legacy plan, culminating in present peace of mind through protecting your family's future. In addition to making sure your wishes for your family are carried out, our life-affirming approach also preserves assets from taxes, avoids probate costs and legal issues, and protects your family from unnecessary financial risk.
Why bother, really?
Let me paint a picture of what can happen if you need a will and do not have one in place. In the absence of a will, a state law called the intestacy statute decides how to distribute your hard-earned savings for you (it runs up and down a theoretical family tree). And unless you have a perfect nuclear family, this can be a bad thing. To put it more bluntly, most folks do not enjoy the idea of their granddaughter’s deadbeat spouse running off with their assets because they didn’t have a will in place. That’s what can happen when the intestacy statute decides for you. Feel free to insert your own problematic family member, but you get the idea.
This intestacy statute thing can be even worse than I’ve described. While the government is well-intentioned in creating these inheritance laws, we all know government intervention into family affairs can lead to unintended results. For example, in the absence of a will, the intestacy statute dictates that your spouse will get everything if there are either no children or children only by your marriage. Reasonable result, right? However, if there are children by a prior relationship, the spouse only gets 1/3 of your estate and the children get 2/3 of the estate. I think you can see why this could be a huge problem. Even if you like the idea of the children’s interests being protected, there are much better ways to accomplish that goal in estate planning. What’s the moral lesson here? Don’t let the government handle your affairs.
Putting these kinds of risks aside, there are lots of positive reasons to get a will. One biggie is that it lets you appoint guardians for your minor children. Without a will, the courts will litigate the matter of who will raise your children in the event you and your spouse pass away while they are still minors. Adding insult to injury, the expense for all of this comes out of your estate, leaving less for the children and their government-appointed new parents. Isn’t this reason enough to get a will? I think so.
God Loves You….but He Doesn’t Care if your Papers are in Order
Is getting a will in place tomorrow morning necessary? Maybe, but probably not. On the other hand, people get overly stressed about getting their affairs in order…so much so that they end up doing nothing at all. And, as I’ve described, doing nothing is almost always a terrible idea rife with risk and unexpected results.
At GuideOn Legal Services, we see estate planning as a way to help people put themselves, their families, and their finances in the best possible position to have a happy, healthy, and fulfilling lives. It is a unique, positive and life-centered approach, and you’ll be pleased with the results. Let’s talk.
The author is GuideOn Legal Services (GLS) founder Jack Grimes, a military veteran, former Intelligence Community executive, small business owners and JAG Corps Reserve Officer with over 17 years of experience in estate planning. He is among a limited number of attorneys in the country with an LL.M. (Masters of Law) in Estate Planning and Elder Law. The GLS motto, Live Long, End Strong® epitomizes the full life-cycle approach Jack takes to estate planning. It starts with the end in mind, and then builds a lifetime and legacy plan, culminating in the peace of mind that comes with protecting your family's future by preserving assets from taxes, probate costs, legal issues, and unnecessary financial risk.