Author Topic: Time to Make a Will?  (Read 6883 times)

jrhampt

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Time to Make a Will?
« on: April 04, 2013, 05:37:21 PM »
So, until recently, I had no assets to do anything with.  However, now I'm 35 and my husband and I have built a stash, and we're thinking about making a will this year, along with other legal documents such as HIPAA/living will, power of attorney, etc.  We have no dependents at present, so how much does this matter right now?  If one of us were to die, would the other automatically be able to take over the retirement accounts and bank accounts that we hold separately?  Is it still a good idea to make one in the event that both of us died unexpectedly?  Also, if any of you have wills, did you do most of it yourself using online templates, or did you use an attorney?  What was the cost associated with an attorney?  Any advice?

Zora

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Re: Time to Make a Will?
« Reply #1 on: April 04, 2013, 06:18:55 PM »
Attorney here.  Call me biased, but I say you should call an attorney. 

My reasoning:  if you're going to do it, do it right.  I am not in Connecticut and can't give specific advice, but in general setting up a trust will be a better route to avoid disputes / time wasting / court involvement / attorney fees once you are dead and gone.  As far as power of attorney / living will - this is important stuff - why risk it? 

My work is in the area of business disputes - landlord/tenant, property purchase agreements, business partners fighting.  I see it all the time that people tried to cut corners in setting up their deals by getting a form from some random place and trying to modify it themselves without having the experience to know what the agreement should actually contain... which is how the end up paying for my services on the back end.

Dee18

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Re: Time to Make a Will?
« Reply #2 on: April 04, 2013, 08:08:39 PM »
Another attorney here.  I agree that the best thing to do is hire an attorney.  That said, I have several non-lawyer acquaintances who have used forms online.  I hired an attorney because I have a child and wanted to include the guardianship issue.  I do think that if your spouse dies, the last thing you want is to have to spend time with a will or trust that has legal snafus.  To me, it is worth it to know the documents were done correctly.  Also, the attorney I hired provided a great questionnaire that led me to think of several issues, resulting in a different allocation of money in my will.  That said, if you are not ready to pay an attorney right now, you can go ahead and speak with the banks and investment companies where you have money.   They can clarify exactly what access there would be with an account.  With Vanguard and other investments I have, I named beneficiaries to the accounts.  The advantage of actually having both names on an account is that the other person can immediately access those funds, rather than waiting for the legal process, which may take a year.  (Since my main heir is my teen daughter,  I have her as a beneficiary and not a joint account holder. :)

You can learn a bit about trusts in Connecticut at:
http://www.jud.ct.gov/probate/understandingtrusts.pdf

A Seattle widow (whose husband died in a bicycle accident) has set up a website urging people to go ahead and make plans and prepare documents.  She provides free templates.  (I have not reviewed them).  The site is:
http://getyourshittogether.org/

Prob8

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Re: Time to Make a Will?
« Reply #3 on: April 04, 2013, 08:23:35 PM »
I'm also a lawyer.  I agree that you should consult a lawyer in your area if you want to complete those documents.  Wills and powers of attorney are fairly straight forward.  However, if you don't know why a particular provision is in a "form" how do you know whether it helps you, hurts you or even applies in your case?  There are also formalities that must be followed to ensure a will is valid - number of witnesses, statements they must make at the time of signing, etc.  There are a lot things that can be done on a DIY basis.  I don't think estate planning is one of those things.  Of course, I'm biased.

In my area (Southern Illinois), cost for basic wills, powers of attorney and a living will will run around $500 for a married couple.  Trusts are more expensive and should be explored if you have a need for them - many people don't.

As for control of separate accounts after a death. . . it depends.  If your spouse is named as the beneficiary, (s)he will typically have access to the account by providing a copy of the death certificate and completing the required forms.  If no beneficiary is listed the account may be able to be cleared without probate if your state allows a small estate procedure and the account(s) are of small enough value.  If not, probate may be required.  If you have no will, your state will have a distribution plan for your assets.  Maybe it's what you would want, maybe it isn't.  Another reason you need advice.

I could go on and on - but I won't bore you.  Hopefully you can see why having an experienced estate planning lawyer can help you create the right documents for you.

Good luck!

jrhampt

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Re: Time to Make a Will?
« Reply #4 on: April 05, 2013, 06:47:00 AM »
Thanks for all the advice, mustache lawyers.  Is there a certain asset threshold, age, or circumstances (ie having a child) where you start to feel a will is necessary, or do you recommend it in any case?

Dr.Vibrissae

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Re: Time to Make a Will?
« Reply #5 on: April 05, 2013, 07:42:41 AM »
Recently found out that in the state of Texas, spouses do not get everything if one dies without a will.   Immediately set about finding out about wills.  For now I have a holographic will (legal in the state of Texas if certain strictures are followed) since I don't have much, and only have one allocation (everything to the Mr. and vice versa).  I am looking into a more longterm solution, and asked a couple of my residency mates with kids what they did.  I was shocked to find that these obviously intelligent people, with young/school age children did not have wills.  I had assumed it was something one did while preparing to have a child.  One even admitted that guardianship would be an issue because they don't want them to go to the families and are sure that at least one set of grandparents would engage in nasty legal disputing to get the kids should anything happen.

I, too am curious to hear more expert people weigh in on the issue.

shusherstache

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Re: Time to Make a Will?
« Reply #6 on: April 05, 2013, 08:02:45 AM »
After taking FPU, we got scared into making a will and had it on our checklist.  I'm also in Texas, and I found out after digging that my workplace actually has a will service to help you set it up.  It can't hurt to ask if you're at a larger company if they offer a service like that.

Most lawyers here recommend medical POA and a will w/trust & guardianship set up for any future, even currently nonexistent, kids (yay for long-term planning) as well as bequeathing all your assets to your legal spouse.  I think the setup would be a couple hundred bucks normally since it's a standard thing.  We paid for a notary public (I know... both of us work long hours and it was handy) and now we're all set. 
« Last Edit: April 05, 2013, 08:32:01 AM by shusherstache »

DoubleDown

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Re: Time to Make a Will?
« Reply #7 on: April 05, 2013, 01:19:57 PM »
I did our estate plan on my own, using a variety of templates and documents (not fill-in-the-form software or websites). The attorneys may or may not approve of doing this on a DIY basis, but so far all of my documents have passed muster when needed, even when being reviewed by other attorneys (for example, I've used Trust Certifications successfully, durable and limited powers of attorney, and so on). Also, it's worth noting that attorneys also use templates; rarely is a document written from scratch by them. You can use the same templates for your state. Otherwise you're largely paying for a paralegal to modify a template you could do yourself.

I don't mean any of this to detract from the services attorneys provide. I did a LOT of reading on the subject beforehand, checking out many books from the library written by estate planning attorneys. I doubt I could have come up with a reasonable "DIY" plan on my own without that, using just the more amateurish fill-in-the-form stuff. I probably would not have undertaken this on my own without doing so much research to the point I felt comfortable taking it on.

Also, for just a little bit of a contrary perspective, courts will generally give broad leeway to estate plans which at least meet some basic criteria. It's unlikely a properly executed Trust or estate plan is going to be declared invalid unless there are some pretty glaring problems. YMMV.

Also for comparison, when I've tried most of the templates offered in typical consumer software or online, I ended up with an estate plan that was maybe 20-30 pages in total. After doing a more heavyweight (and I'd say far more complete and professional approach), I ended up with an estate plan somewhere around 120 pages. This passes the "thud" test, at least, much better (usually a well-thought out estate plan will make a "thud" when tossed on a desk, not float down from its lightness.

I'd say like most things, if you're willing to invest the time learning, it's worthwhile to do this on your own. It has the added advantages of:

a) Knowing if you're being "sold" things or being taken down a wrong path from an unscrupulous attorney, or one who really doesn't know what they're doing. You might be surprised just how many "professionals" there are that claim to know what they are doing in estate planning, but really don't. I imagine some of the attorneys on this site would agree here. (See threads on "Certified Financial Planners" for a similar discussion of professionals who can lead you astray).

b) The knowledge you gain will continue to serve you in many ways, for the rest of your life. You'll make better, informed decisions along the way. For example, I can make financial decisions even after my estate plan has been executed, knowing the tax implications, legal implications, how to set up ownership of accounts and property, beneficiary decisions, insurance decisions, and so on.

c) You will be competent to make changes to your plan over time, as your life situation changes (kids, deaths, marriages, divorces, family dynamics, changes in giving philosophy, whatever). Might as well make the investment up front to learn this, otherwise you'll likely be paying an attorney every time you want to amend your plan. There are some really great books on the subject matter that will teach you everything you need to know. And even if you do end up hiring an attorney, the knowledge will serve you well.

So please at least do a little reading from a good book, then you can make the choice that's best for you. Good luck!

StarryC

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Re: Time to Make a Will?
« Reply #8 on: April 05, 2013, 01:43:19 PM »
I am a lawyer too, and I don't have a will.  However, I am single and childless, with very few assets.  I think the first threshold to having a will is, "do you care where your stuff goes when you die?"  If so, you've got to do something, whether it is simply researching what the "intestate succession" in your state is. 


Peter

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Re: Time to Make a Will?
« Reply #9 on: April 05, 2013, 02:15:19 PM »
I am uncertain if I need a will.

I'm single, no house, just bank accounts and investment accounts. Won't indicating my dad as beneficiary to my account upon my death be sufficient?

I guess the only other thing to deal with would be the contents of my apartment. Will a will be necessary for the property manager to release my posessions in their apartment building to my parents? Though I suppose when my parents came to visit my dead body the coroner would give them my wallet and keys and at that point they could let themselves into my apartment without any offical legal "process", right?

marty998

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Re: Time to Make a Will?
« Reply #10 on: April 05, 2013, 05:08:43 PM »
Coroner? On the morbid assumption your death will be a mystery worthy of expert inquiry? Murder, abuse, neglect by the State? :)

Everyone needs a will, and it should be updated every time your circumstances change. Marriage, children, buying property, investments, setting up companies/trusts.

Especially when you do not "get along" with certain family members, a watertight will is necessary.

Prob8

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Re: Time to Make a Will?
« Reply #11 on: April 05, 2013, 08:38:59 PM »
@jrhampt - the question you should be asking is what do you want your estate planning documents to accomplish?  If all you are interested in is making sure your spouse inherits some bank/investment accounts which you own separately, you can accomplish that via beneficiary designations. 

If you want it to accomplish more (who gets property if your spouse dies before you or in a common accident, guardianship for kids, burial instructions, age restrictions for a child's inheritance, dealing with a disabled child, estate tax issues, probate avoidance, etc.), a will or trust should be considered.

In my state, a spouse will not have access to separately owned accounts (i.e. those you own in your name) if you become disabled/incapacitated unless you name your spouse as agent under a property power of attorney or a guardianship is commenced.  Healthcare decisions could be a problem if you don't have a power of attorney as well. 

DoubleDown makes a good point about selecting a good lawyer.  If you hire one, choose one that deals mostly in estate planning/estate administration. 

Good luck.

MooreBonds

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Re: Time to Make a Will?
« Reply #12 on: April 06, 2013, 08:31:59 AM »
I am uncertain if I need a will.

I'm single, no house, just bank accounts and investment accounts. Won't indicating my dad as beneficiary to my account upon my death be sufficient?

It depends how the accounts are titled and set-up. Is it a TOD (Transfer on Death)? Or just a note that they are the beneficiary? The former should be able to transfer upon your parents presenting your Death Certificate, and take perhaps a week or two. If the later, it might still have to be probated.

To start with, your state likely sets probate fees of about 2%-3% (varies on the size of the accounts). Also, some (most?) states require you to hire a lawyer for the probate process, it's not something you can always do yourself. And some might even assign a probate lawyer.

I've never gone through probate, but have helped settle a (relatively) large value estate setup with Revocable Living Trusts. The RLT still took time to wind down positions, retitle things, and transfer assets, but there weren't any fees (apart from ordering tons of copies of the Death Certificate), and it went relatively smoothly. The entire probate process can vary in time, from a few months (more common) to (if there are any challenges) well over a year. Plus multiple court appearances.  And that's before you ever receive any funds.

And you thought sitting at home for 2 hours waiting for a cable/appliance repair person was a drag? :)

I guess the only other thing to deal with would be the contents of my apartment. Will a will be necessary for the property manager to release my posessions in their apartment building to my parents? Though I suppose when my parents came to visit my dead body the coroner would give them my wallet and keys and at that point they could let themselves into my apartment without any offical legal "process", right?

Depends on how the property manager is. Did you ever fill out a form of "contact in case of emergency"? If they show their ID and you previously listed them as your emergency contact and said they were your parents, I'm guessing most would let them in....but if you live in a large apartment complex run by a large corporate owner, they might have more strict rules.

DoubleDown

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Re: Time to Make a Will?
« Reply #13 on: April 08, 2013, 11:34:05 AM »
I'd also offer up these guidelines to anyone considering whether they need to do an estate plan:

1. If you're asking if you need to do an estate plan or have a will, the answer is almost invariably "yes".

2. There's much more to a complete estate plan than just a will; a will is only one relatively small part of it. Everyone should have a "living will" or healthcare directive which gives instructions on what you want done for health care or end of life decisions (do you want to be hooked up to machines keeping you alive for 30 years?); a general power of attorney (to make legal or financial decisions for you if you ever become incapacitated); and if you have children you certainly need a Nomination of Guardianship to indicate who should care for your children, and how you'd like them to be raised.

3. If you have any assets at all you would do best to have both a Revocable (i.e. Living) Trust AND a Pour-over Will. A trust avoids probate hassles and costs, gives you tremendous flexibility that a will cannot, gives you privacy (wills and probate proceedings are generally matters of public record while trusts are kept private), and gives you near certainty against having your wishes disregarded through a successful legal challenge (wills are much easier to overturn, while properly executed trusts are very difficult to challenge, if ever).

4. I've never experienced it, but all the authors of the estate planning books I read said that in their experience, nothing tears families apart quite like someone dying and failing to indicate what should happen in their aftermath. Having to guess or fight over our intentions is not really something we should visit upon our surviving loved ones.

5. It may be that the state you live in provides lots of good "default" behaviors if you die intestate (i.e., without an estate plan). But why chance it? Doing an estate plan is not that hard at all. No state can guess your intentions, and there's really no good reason to leave it to chance/defaults.

yolfer

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Re: Time to Make a Will?
« Reply #14 on: April 08, 2013, 12:14:08 PM »
I live in WA state. I'm doing a barter with an estate lawyer (in exchange for setting up her website). I previously had a will from Willmaker and she read through it pointing out all the holes. Basically it wouldn't have been useful in the event of my death.

So I'd consider getting one done professionally, and perhaps doing a barter so you don't have to pay cash for it.

Prob8

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Re: Time to Make a Will?
« Reply #15 on: April 08, 2013, 08:33:05 PM »
@Yolfer - you have first-hand experience regarding why I don't recommend doing a will on a DIY basis.  I've seen numerous wills fail to pass muster when done on a DIY basis.  Some are sufficient for probate but are unclear as to intent.  Others use the wrong type of witnesses causing disasters.  There is no shortage of problems with DIY estate plans.

Doing a DIY plumbing repair may work out or it may not.  If not, you can always fix it or hire a pro.  Screwing up an estate planning document will likely not get noticed until you need it (death or incapacity).  At that point, you can't fix it and your family is now stuck with it.

Congrats on getting yours sorted out and for doing so on a barter basis.

DoubleDown

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Re: Time to Make a Will?
« Reply #16 on: April 09, 2013, 08:20:04 AM »
@Prob8 - I absolutely respect your opinion about potential problems with a DIY estate plan, and I agree there could be problems doing it yourself if you're careless. The attorneys that authored the books I read said you're also very likely to find an attorney who will issue a poor estate plan, because they are everywhere.

But  just as an estate plan could be done wrong, they can be done right with some research/knowledge. Yolfer's experience with the lawyer could be an example of a poorly constructed (software generated) will that a competent lawyer reviewed and legitimately found lacking. It could also be an example of a perfectly fine will that a  lawyer reviewed and said they found lacking in order to get Yolfer to hire him/her. It happens all the time.

For example, if I replaced the word "lawyer" with "mechanic", no one would be shocked to hear that they inspected Yolfer's car and found all kinds of things that are wrong and need fixing, even though the car was fine. It's no different in the legal field or many other professional fields. I've had lawyers give me poor advice. I've had MD's and dentists give me poor advice. I've had CPA's and Certified Financial Planners give me poor advice. Assuming good intentions, I'd say most gave me bad advice because they simply didn't know better or they were following the script. In some cases, it was blatant attempts to get me to write them a check.

Sure, someone could do a poor job on their own. Using your example, one should not really expect to be able to competently tackle a complicated plumbing problem with no knowledge or research. The same is certainly true for estate planning. But with some reading, it really is not difficult to avoid the common pitfalls you pointed out, such as improperly witnessed/executed plans, or plans with unclear intent.

And the fact is, if I walked into an attorney's office today and reviewed my needs with them regarding estate planning, they (or their paralegal) would run it through some software and/or MS Word templates they use for everyone else, and spit out some documents that would be signed. People can spit out documents themselves with the right software, templates, and examples. We can get much of the advice and education an attorney would provide through reading books written by attorneys. Really complex situations might warrant hiring an attorney to discuss specific questions, but otherwise most of us could do it on our own with some reading.

Relating anecdotes, my mother had her estate plan done by a local attorney. Based on what I had learned from my own (extensive) reading and research, and reviewing her plan prepared by the attorney, I found it quite lacking! It did not adequately handle many of the basic considerations discussed by the attorneys that authored the books I read. I think the take-away is it's always better to arm yourself with knowledge. Then you'll at least be able to discern for yourself what is needed in a good plan, whether you DIY or have an attorney do it.

Peter

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Re: Time to Make a Will?
« Reply #17 on: April 10, 2013, 03:36:48 PM »
What books would you reccommend DoubleDown? Did you find the topics covered to be very state/country specific, or broadly useful?

Jamesqf

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Re: Time to Make a Will?
« Reply #18 on: April 10, 2013, 05:29:08 PM »
For example, if I replaced the word "lawyer" with "mechanic", no one would be shocked to hear that they inspected Yolfer's car and found all kinds of things that are wrong and need fixing, even though the car was fine.

And on the other hand, few people would think I'd be making a serious mistake by doing my own oil changes.

jrhampt

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Re: Time to Make a Will?
« Reply #19 on: April 11, 2013, 08:02:11 AM »
Thanks for all the great advice in this thread.  My two key things to act on were to make sure my investment accounts had my spouse listed as the beneficiary, which they did not!  I was surprised to find I had overlooked something so easy to do...just took a few minutes to do this online.  The second was to find out if our jobs offered a free legal consult, which they both do a combination of a free half hour or hour plus discounted fees after that.  We will take advantage of one of those options when we do the full estate planning, so at least we will get a discount.

DoubleDown

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Re: Time to Make a Will?
« Reply #20 on: April 15, 2013, 10:47:38 AM »
What books would you reccommend DoubleDown? Did you find the topics covered to be very state/country specific, or broadly useful?

Sorry for my late response, have been away for the last week.

I really wish I had some titles I could recall to recommend to you, but I did most of my reading several years ago and don't remember any longer (and those books might be somewhat obsolete by now). I just went to my library and found many books available in the legal reference section. I did find books that were both general, and targeted to my state. And many of the general books also included appendices with summaries of the laws in each state. I hope you'll be able to find some good ones too!

@Prob8 and the other attorneys: Apologies if my previous posts came off as trivializing or discounting the advice of an attorney and getting professional assistance. That was not my intent, but I can see my posts could be interpreted that way. I know consulting an attorney can be helpful (and necessary in some cases), while also believing individuals can do much (if not all) the work themselves if they do the research and feel they understand things.

Reepekg

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Re: Time to Make a Will?
« Reply #21 on: April 15, 2013, 03:43:25 PM »
If I can hijack a thread numerous Mustachioed attorneys are already reading, what happens if all my financial accounts are accessible online and my wife has all the usernames/passwords? She will be able to just log in and withdraw whatever funds she wants, which I prefer. Is there someone with the US/IL government whose job it is to look into all my financial matters and tie things up/make sure everything is inherited properly when I die?

If we both die simultaneously, I don't care who gets the 'stache.
« Last Edit: April 15, 2013, 03:47:01 PM by Reepekg »