Thursday, February 23, 2012

Where there's a will....

A number of people have asked me to write a post explaining why you need a will. I talk to people all the time about this issue, and many people tell me that they do not need a will - they either don't have children, or they don't have any assets.  So in the interest of explaining, in the simplest terms, to everyone, why it is that you need a will, the following is all I can offer you:

Someday you will die. 

So it's time to ask yourself - when you die, what happens to your stuff?  And let's just pretend for a moment that instead of dying from old age, you are killed in a car accident and there is a large insurance payout that goes to your estate.  Who gets that money?  Is it your spouse?  Is it your parents?  Is it your sibling?  Is it the state?  What if you and your spouse both die at the same time?  If you have a will, you get to say who gets that money.  If you don't have a will, you follow what is called "intestacy".  Every state has a system in place as to who gets your money - and it isn't necessarily your spouse.  Your spouse gets more of your money, but not all of your money, in some states.

If you have children, let me just relay to you the sad story my boss was telling me the other day about the children who went to Disneyworld and came home orphans because their parents were killed in a car accident on the way to dinner.  The parents surely had meant to get around to designating a guardian, but just hadn't done it yet, and the seven siblings of the parents went to court which resulted in an 8 hour guardianship hearing over who had the best interest of the children (and million dollar insurance settlement) at heart.

Now, I suppose you are going to tell me that wills are expensive.  That is true, I suppose.  But it is a lot less than your loved ones could spend on attorneys fees doing what they think you want if something should happen to you.  How much should you expect to pay?  Probably anything from $200 and up.  How do you find a lawyer? You start by talking to people you know that are lawyers - they may know somebody from law school that does estate planning.  Otherwise, call your local bar association and see if they have a referral service.  If that doesn't work, check in the phone book under "estate planning" or "elder law".  Ask for a ballpark price quote, and if it's too high, or they ask you questions that make you uncomfortable, keep looking until you find somebody you like talking to.  You should DIY your wills only as a last resort - and make sure you find a guide to what constitutes a will in your state - your local library may have some helpful resources, as might your local Register of Wills.  Please do not buy a plastic wrapped set of documents at Office Depot entitled "will" and then fill in the blanks.

Do you have a will? Is it on your to-do list?


  1. ughhhh...I guess we're going to have to get around to this. I looked into Idaho law and if I die intestate, then it's split evenly between my spouse and my mom (assuming, of course, that I don't die between now and September so I have a spouse). I think the rub really comes in with respect to our property that is owned jointly with Forrest's brother...that's a piece that should definitely be discussed with a lawyer. A will is definitely on the list!

  2. Jointly owned property makes for big messes in the event of a death, because it often depends on how it is titled, etc. Get thee to a lawyer quickly!

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  4. I *think* (from my limited understanding of legalese) that my state law stipulates, "If there are no children or their lineal descendants, then the whole to the surviving spouse." Which is fine by me... and if B and I are both out of the picture, I don't really care who gets it, and I trust my family to be fair.

    So it's not on my current to-do list, but that could change if some compelling reason surfaces (e.g. some young relative/person ends up caring for us when we're old and I want to leave everything to them).

  5. We have living wills that have yet to be notarized. It kind of bums me out and is majorly on my to-do list this year.

  6. We don't have a will . . . partly because we don't have any dependents or property and our bank account have beneficiaries named. Okay, FINE, one of them does.

    It's also partly because himself is from a country where the laws about what happens to stuff when you die is a bit more cut-and-dry (or so he tells me, and that may not be entirely accurate at all), so he doesn't realize the definite need for it.

    It'll happen this year though, for sure. Just like our wedding album. *ahem*