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Why do people not have a basic will in place, knowing they want to protect what matters most?

We are going to dive into this question and many more over the next few weeks. Our plan is to show you why the myths that people continue to hear about, in some cases, are simply not true. In the end, we will show you why having a will is as important as having a secured retirement plan or life insurance for your family and business. You are never be too young to get started planning. Today, you may only need a few documents however in the years to come, as your life changes and grows, so will the need for more advanced legacy and wealth planning. That's why it's critical for your vital documents to be kept current so that your legacy is never impacted nor your family. 

Myth #1 - Don't have any assets to give away therefore I don't need a will.

The number one reason that people don't have a will.. is because they associate wills with higher wealth and asset distribution. In our previous post, we showed that a staggering 55% of the American people did not even have a basic will in place and if they did, it was no longer up-to-date according to their living circumstances, which can be as risky as not having one in place. You have to remember you are not writing a will to come in effect today. At this point. you have no way of predicting what your estate will be worth when you die. It's quite possible you might be worth more after your death than when you were alive.. 

For example, what if you got into a car accident, and died, and it was the result of the other driver's negligence and therefore was found responsible for the death. Now, because of the accident, there could be some level of accidental death compensation that would be paid and that would go into the estate. Suddenly your estate just got bigger, despite not having assets beforehand. Now, because of your will, the funds would be distributed according to the instructions outlined in your will.

Not let's assume you didn't have a will when the accident occurred, that means you died intestate (meaning no will in place). So what does dying intestate mean exactly: Intestate will cause your estate and the funds received into the estate as a result of the accident, will now be distributed and handled by the court. Every state has different estate laws regarding distribution of estate assets. This process is called Probate and can take at least one to three years to complete, and in that time your family doesn't get access to the funds immediately as result of the accident. The probate process can generally cost your estate 5 to 10% of the total net worth, and can go higher depending on the number of attorneys involved in the estate. Typically the probate process can take anywhere from a year to 3 years. A longtime to wait for funds to help your family.

Being wealthy doesn't make you any more equipped to handle this process than someone with no money. Some great examples of people with extraordinary wealth and resources at their disposal, still didn't have a simple will in place. The most recent example of this scenario is the artist called Prince. He died abruptly without a will despite the millions his estate and songs are worth. The biggest complication of an artist's death, is that their music lives on long after death and will continue to generate revenue for the estate and for the music studios. Without a will, his music rights are subject to go to whoever the courts decide should get them... that means the music company could get them without much struggle unless he had something in writing that directed otherwise.

Here are some artists and actors where wealth didn't help them make the right decisions, and in some cases are still being fought in court 20 to 30 years later.

Jimi Hendrix (still in court)
Martin Luther King (still being fought in court despite his estate at that time was worth very little, his reputation is the issue with his estate)
Bob Marley (no will even though he knew he had cancer for 8 months - estate worth $30 million, and dozens of people stepped forward to put a claim on it)
Soprano's star James Gondolfino (Had a will, but his had many errors which was addressed before he died -- will come back to him later)
Michael Jackson (had a will but initially his mother claimed he died intestate, and until the will was later found, his estate could have gone another way - in just one year after he died his estate was worth $242 million) 

Just because you don't have any assets today, doesn't mean in 5 years or even in 10 years from now, your estate wouldn't grow to be larger than it's worth today. That's why important to not list assets in your will because your estate's total net worth can't be predicted until after you have passed on.

The other side of this equation, why is it so important to keep your will updated every 3 years? 
Imagine when you drafted up your will, you were married at the time, had a child, however years later you divorce your 1st wife and get remarried, and now your new wife is having a baby or has just given birth. In the original will you left the majority of your estate to your 1st child due to the divorce and he is 10 years old, but you never made any changes to the will once you remarried, to include your new wife or children. This is where the chaos and court battles begin, because the ex thinks the will should distributed as initially written but the new wife only wants best for their new child as well. Since children from a new marriage was not added into the language, it was up to the courts to decide what happens. In this particular case, some of the funds were distributed to the new baby and wife however that was the judge's discretion, it could have easily have gone a different way. 

To summarize, regardless of your net worth,  you should get a will drawn up, because you never know what will happen in a year's time to your estate's total worth. Which is why it is so vitally important to keep your will current and up-to-date. The rule of thumb is have your estate documents reviewed every 3 years unless you have life changing event, then it will need to be reviewed sooner than later.

Still debating the importance of a will. Take a look at the following examples below and see if any of these situations apply to you. If they do, then should make an appointment with an attorney, whose specialty is concentrated on estate, wealth, and/or legacy planning. The reason you want an attorney whose specialty is estate planning versus going to your family lawyer. Attorney whose specialty is civil law, criminal law, and under other services, they mention estate planning. According to the statistics and surveys, attorney's who practices law outside of estate planning, typically handles 1-2 estate planning cases a year. The attorney whose main focus is estate planning, typically handles 4 to 5 cases a week/16 to 20 wills a month. Would you go to your estate planning or even a family law attorney to handle a criminal case, the scenario is not very likely. Expectation is you want the best attorney for the job.

Do you fall into any of these categories, if you do, contact our office, and let our experienced team help you get started. 

  • are you starting college,

  • just purchased your first house,

  • maybe you just had a new baby,

  • recently married,

  • or in a high risk job,

  • recently turned 18

For the ones that have a will or a trust, do you fall into any of these scenarios

  • it's been more than 3 years since it was last reviewed,

  • Trust or will prepared prior to 2013

  • Recently re-married

  • Have children other than your own living with you

  • Recently separated or divorced

  • Recently move or have moved several times since your will was prepared

  • Bought a vacation home

  • Never funded your trust

If any of these apply to you, please contact our office and schedule a time to have your documents reviewed. If you have a financial planner that you are currently working with, we encourage them to join us and be a part of the review process. That goes for CPA's as well.

Remember this: At its core, estate planning is about the legacy that you leave behind. The question you must ask yourself: Will that legacy be one of conflict, confusion and cost, or a process that positively extends the impact of your life? You don’t have to plan to fail your family; you just have to fail to plan.

In a few simple steps you could be on your way to achieving peace of mind, knowing that your family, your business, and your legacy is protected. That's the greatest gift you can anyone.... your love and protection.

To learn more, you should join our class on the Essentials of Estate planning. This course will walk you through the terminology, the advantages and disadvantages of having a will versus setting up a trust, the importance of having guardians for your children in case the unthinkable happen, and finally what's the next step to make this a reality.

Contact our office via email, or call (919) 647-9599 if interested in signing up for the next class. The class typically last anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes. There will be snacks and drinks for your pleasure.