Estate Planning Done Right: How to Help Your Family from the Great Beyond

Estate Planning SmartsUnless you're Obi-Wan Kenobi, you're not going to be able to visit your relatives after you die to offer advice, explain things you said when you were alive, or just totally freak them out. However, you can choose the next best thing: Get an estate plan, which tells everyone what you want done with your stuff, your body, and the things that came from your body (i.e., your kids) if you become temporarily or eternally incapacitated. But having a will isn't enough; a solid estate plan involves several documents and occasional updating.

For each issue of my Motley Fool newsletter, I interview an expert (in fact, the feature is called “Expert Corner”). I usually don't port them over to the GRS audience, but this one is required reading for everyone who will eventually die — or knows someone who will. It's with Deborah Jacobs (@jdworking), a graduate of Columbia Law School and the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, and the author of Estate Planning Smarts: A Practical, User-Friendly, Action-Oriented Guide. (Pass it along to any friends and relatives, too, if their lack of financial planning will cost you time, money, or sanity.)

 

Robert Brokamp
Studies show that most people ignore estate planning. Any opinions on why that is?

Deborah Jacobs
I think there are a few reasons:

    • One is that it requires us to face our mortality, and that's not pleasant for anybody, even though it's part of life. And so far I don't know anyone who has managed to beat that.

 

    • Another is that it costs money, but it's not spending money on something that you live to see the benefits of, even though your family will.

 

  • I think the third reason is that it's hard to identify what you're getting for the money. That is, to a large extent, you're avoiding conflicts and you're making sure that your family is taken care of, but since you're not going to be around to witness that, it's very hard to spend money on it.

Robert Brokamp
One of the reasons I think is that the term “estate planning” isn't clear. I think some people think “estate” means you have to be wealthy, and if you don't have an “estate” — as in a big mansion in England or something — you don't need to do estate planning. What would you consider sort of a good layperson's definition of “estate planning”?

Deborah Jacobs
I think estate planning covers two things. The first thing is something that people don't typically associate with estate planning, which is providing for your own financial well-being and your medical care if you can no longer take care of yourself. That's a subject that I cover in the first chapter of the book, before you ever get to this notion of passing your assets after you pass away. The first chapter is called “Nothing Lasts Forever,” and the subtitle is “Read this Chapter, Even If You Are Hardy and Clear-Headed.” Because of good medical care and increased longevity, more and more of us are going to reach the point of age-related physical or mental disability, for better or worse.

The good news is we are living longer. The bad news is the end of our life may not be a quality life. I heard a statistic recently that one in every eight of us Baby Boomers will develop Alzheimer's. That's just an incredible statistic, so the first thing is providing for your own good care as you reach those twilight years.

Then the second thing with estate planning is providing for the financial security of your loved ones and determining who gets what after you pass away. But I totally agree with you: The term is too fancy for our own good, and when I would tell people I was working on a book about estate planning, some people looked at me quizzically or they simply said, “Oh, that's not something I need, because I don't have an estate.” But an estate is everything that you leave behind when you pass away: retirement assets, proceeds of life insurance policies, a home, jewelry, everything in your bank account.

Cat toy stash discovered
Your estate is everything you leave behind when you pass away.

 

Robert Brokamp
What do you think are the top estate planning mistakes?

Deborah Jacobs
The first is not having a durable power of attorney, which would empower someone to handle your finances in case you become incapacitated.

The second is not having an up-to-date will — or not having a will at all. If you don't have a will, your assets pass according to state law, and that varies hugely. Then, not keeping your will up to date could be a terrible thing.

In the book, I include the example of Heath Ledger, who had an out-of-wedlock child and a relationship that broke up shortly before he died. His will had been made when he was in his twenties, and he left everything to his parents and his sisters. When he died, he had a two-year-old child. The story ended with people doing the right thing: The parents and sisters turned down the inheritance and let it pass to the child, but it would have been a lot better if he'd provided for that himself. For example, maybe he wanted to only leave the child some of the assets, but not all of his many millions. Or maybe he wanted to leave them in trust for her care until she reached a certain age. By not having a will or not keeping your will up to date, anything could happen.

The third thing is not naming a guardian for minor children, which you can only do through a will. Some people think it's okay just to take someone aside and ask, “Will you be my child's guardian if something happens to me?” But those informal arrangements are not legally binding.

If I could name one more, it's not naming a beneficiary of your retirement accounts. If you don't name one, you lose a lot of the tax-deferred and tax-free compounding that is associated with these accounts. (Money in tax-advantaged retirement accounts that is left to an estate instead of individuals must be withdrawn within five years.)

Robert Brokamp
Should people use estate planning software or forms they find on the Internet, or should everyone visit a local estate planning attorney?

Deborah Jacobs
I'm very opposed to do-it-yourself products, because there are just so many things that can go wrong, things that ordinary people just can't imagine. That could be who gets what or whether a will is even valid, because there are certain formalities associated with signing and witnessing a will, which are meant to prevent fraud.

On the other hand, I think that on the whole, lawyers charge too much for these documents nowadays. The reason I say this is that the same technology that makes it possible to download a document on the Internet is being applied to lawyers' practices to produce very high-quality form documents, yet many lawyers are still charging as if they are preparing these documents with a quill pen!

I'm really on a campaign right now — a sort of liaison between two worlds. On the consumers' side, I'm saying, “Don't do this at home.” On the lawyers' side, I am saying, “If you all find this so objectionable, you're going to have to lower your rates for these documents.”

Robert Brokamp
So how should someone go about finding an estate planning attorney?

Deborah Jacobs
The best way is to get recommendations from people who have been in similar situations or have a similar family background. You can ask other professionals you work with — your accountant, for example.

If that fails, there are associations of lawyers that can let you know about experts in your area. I like the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel, because it's a very elite group. You have to spend a great deal of your practice on trusts and estates work. To get into the organization, you have to be elected to membership, so I think that they do skim out some of the best and the brightest in this field.

Robert Brokamp
How often do you need to update your estate planning documents? I'm guessing one of the reasons to do it is if you move to a different state, since the laws vary from state to state.

Deborah Jacobs
That's one occasion to do it. The rule of thumb is that this is something you should think about every five years — or more often if there's a change in your finances or a change in your personal circumstances. That is, marriage, divorce, you become a widow or widower, you move, or the law changes, as it did at the end of 2010.

Moving to another state is a very important occasion for at least looking at your estate plan, and the reason isn't so much necessarily that the state that you're moving to won't honor you will — because all states will honor a will that is valid in the state where it was signed — but the thing is that there may be specific terms drafted for when you were living in the old state that could be problematic in the new one.

A terrific example of that involves a very, very quirky provision in Florida law where a lot of people go to retire. The Florida bar figured this out, and wouldn't you know, they got a provision added to the law that says you may not name as an executor of your will someone who lives in another state unless it is a member of your family. So let's say you have your accountant or your lawyer back in New York who you've been with forever, and you move to Florida. You can't name him or her as the executor of your estate. This is a quirky little thing, seemingly little thing, that people might not think about.

Then there are all kinds of other things that could affect your estate planning that turn on differences in the laws between states. For example, whether there is a state estate tax. Sixteen states and the District of Columbia now have a state estate tax, and so that might be something that you want to plan for.

Robert Brokamp
I think once people have estate planning explained to them, they understand why it's important. But it's also important to get your family on board, because if they don't have an estate plan, you're the one who pays the price.

Unfortunately, that can be a difficult discussion, because it brings up a lot of family issues in terms of how much parents want to reveal about their finances and who is going to get what.

Do you have any suggestions for people to encourage their relatives — parents and siblings — to get their estate plans in order without seeming too pushy or too nosy?

Deborah Jacobs
It's interesting that you raise this, because after the first edition of my book was published, I had some people who bought it directly through the website who bought multiple copies, and they said, “Send one to each of my kids.” It became apparent to me that people were using my book to help start the family conversation, so when I did the second edition, I added an entire section to the last chapter of the book, chapter 19, about how to start the family conversation.

I thought very long and hard about this, because it's such a touchy subject. There are a few ways to approach this, and how you do it will depend in part on who you're talking to. I divided it in the book between with your spouse or partner — which, by the way, is not a superfluous subject, because very often with spouses, one wants to deal with it and the other doesn't, and very often the one who doesn't is the older one, who is going to be statistically speaking, likely to leave behind this younger spouse, without addressing this subject. The other section is about talking to your parents.

For each, there were a couple of approaches. One is the conversation-starter approach. So with spouses, my conversation starters can emphasize your own mortality, like, “I'd like to talk about ways to provide for you and the family in case something happens to me.” Or you can make it a subject of mutual concern: “You know, we're not getting any younger. I think it's time we did our wills.” Or you could focus on the children. This works well for young parents. “Now that we're parents, we really shouldn't procrastinate about this.”

If you're not comfortable plunging right in with one of these openers, you could go about it in a more roundabout fashion, which is to start with current events or an anecdote about other people. The Heath Ledger anecdote, for example, would work really well for parents of young children. Or maybe you recently saw a movie together, or you read a book, or there was a news report about someone your age who recently died or a sudden death in your community. Or say a friend or a family member has talked to you about their own plans. It can take the sting out of confronting it in the direct way that I propose with the conversation starters.

With spouses, they do have a card to play if they get pushed back. They can say, “We owe this much to each other,” or, “Please do this for my sake.” I think we're always in our rights to say that to someone who we are emotionally and financially dependent on. So that is my approach for spouses.

With adult children, it gets trickier. I'm talking now about the parent who chooses to discuss this with his or her adult children. The first thing I have to say about this is that parents have no obligation to change an estate plan after hearing the child's preferences, but I do think that if you have a good relationship with your child, disclosing what you're planning can help you to refine your approach. For example, maybe you're thinking of leaving one child a larger inheritance than the other because he has more children. If you share these details, you might learn from that child that he'd rather receive the same amount as his siblings, even though he could use the money, rather than face their wrath after you are gone. So explaining the principles that have influenced your decision could make it easier for children to accept or it might lead you to rethink what you have done.

it's mine!I was really surprised at one point about a year or two ago when I was writing a story about this subject for the New York Times, and I interviewed a very prominent person who is on the faculty of Harvard and in his early 60s, and he began to talk to me about the huge fight he had with his sisters after his father died, because he was the one who was left the country house, and he really deserved it because he spent more time there, but these sisters have never forgiven him for it. If his father had sat the kids down and said, “I'm leaving the country house to Joe” — that wasn't his name — “because he lives close to it and he spends a lot of time there, and you all never come anyway and never cared about that house and these are my reasons.” If they had heard it from Dad, they probably would have been much more accepting of it, but instead the inheritance turned the 60-some-odd-year-old adults — who were parents and grandparents themselves — into the functional equivalent of eight-year-olds.

A question that I sometimes get when I speak on this subject is, “Should I do this as a group, or should I do it one-on-one?” My answer is that it depends on your family dynamics, and I always use the example of my family, where family secrets are spread one-on-one, and everybody will say, “Well, did you hear? But don't tell anyone.” When it comes around, you're left saying, “Was I supposed to pretend that I didn't know that or not?”

If you talk to them as a group, you may get a group dynamic where you suddenly feel like they're ganging up on you, and that could be kind of uncomfortable. On the other hand, if you talk to them individually, I think it's a good idea to say, “I'm talking to you; I already talked to your brother when he came last week” or whatever. Let the children know that you are having the same conversation with everybody.

The most important reason for having this conversation — and again, no obligation to change what you are doing — is to explain your reasons if they're not obvious. If for some reason you're not treating everybody fairly, this is the chance to really iron that out, because I think what most parents want more than anything when they think about what life for the kids will be like when they're gone is they want the kids to get along. They don't want family conflict. Parents hate bickering when they're raising kids. The idea that they're all going to either drift apart or be at each other's necks after the parent passes away is a terrible thought.

So that's talking to your adult children. Now, the hardest conversation of all is when you are the adult child and your parents are getting on in years and you want to raise this with them, because then you risk seeming like you're a money-grubber interested in your inheritance.

Toto's Final Night
An aging parent may be reluctant to talk about her estate.

 

The other thing that you risk is the parent reacting by saying, “Oh, what do you think? I'm demented and I don't know what I'm doing anymore? I can take care of myself.” And very often they're on the way, but they're so afraid of losing control that even raising the subject can really threaten their desire for independence.

So there you have to proceed very delicately, and the way I'd do it to say, “I just did my own plan. Do you think you should update yours?” Another is, if you're not comfortable with the direct approach, convey a story about a friend's parents who didn't take the necessary measures, for example, by not signing a durable power of attorney and how much hardship it caused for those children.

But I do think that you need to guard against what are the most common grounds for contesting a will or a trust. One is undue influence, which refers to efforts to coerce someone to sign estate planning documents that favor one person over another. Another is the argument that the elderly person had no idea what they were doing when they signed the document; that is, that they lacked capacity.

If you get a lot of pushback from your parent — or maybe even a little — I think it's more important to drop the subject and back off than to potentially damage your relationship over this in what may be the very little time that you have left together.

Hilarious sleeping cat by Umberto Salvagnin. Cat toys by Jon Ross. Library cat by Pete Welch. Fighting kittens by Tracy Ducasse. Old kitty by J.D. Roth.

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Nicole
Nicole
9 years ago

Once again, great cat photos!

Our estate plan cost a little over $500 (and about 2 hours of our time) for the whole kit and caboodle, including all the medical stuff. The most important thing for us is the line of succession for who takes care of the child if we die, but there was a ton of stuff we hasn’t thought of as well.

Dave
Dave
9 years ago

I’m from MA and everyone I’ve talked to (3 law firms) said a basic will and healthcare power of attorney is $1,500. One thing I’m considering is signing up for legal services through my employer. Services like MetLaw/Hyatt legal plans cost less per year and I’m hoping I can get decent help through them.

Kate
Kate
9 years ago
Reply to  Dave

Dave, I also live in Ma. and our medical POA info and wills cost about $750.
Shop around!
Disclaimer: we don’t have many assets.

Terence
Terence
9 years ago
Reply to  Dave

@Dave-Also check out Pre-Paid Legal Services for your state. I am not sure if Medical POA or the living will is also included in Hyatt plan but I do know that they are in Pre Paid Legal.

Chett
Chett
9 years ago
Reply to  Terence

Watch out for some pre paid legal services. Some of these business aren’t in the primary business of providing legal advice, but building a network of sales people.

Terence
Terence
9 years ago
Reply to  Chett

Most definitely stay away from anything that has selling first vs. a valid product. For a month to month service where you can test out the service where your risk is <$50 which may be worth a look.

DreamChaser57
DreamChaser57
9 years ago

I like fluffy kitties …………………………..Oops I’ve digressed, the kitty pictures were a great diversionary tactic, kind of like a mental rest stop In law school, in Wills & Trusts class, the professor posed the question “How many of you have wills/estate plans?” -Out of approximately 100 students, 3 people raised their hands. The professor was even surprised. Neglecting estate plans is something that even future lawyers do. I believe the latest statistic is that 70% of Americans don’t have wills. It’s sad and quite telling that in a lot of circles people are comfortable spending thousands of dollars on a… Read more »

Terence
Terence
9 years ago

This is a great article. It gives a good summary of all the points of Estate planning. I do agree with it being an initial hill to overcome. There are also ongoing considerations so I think to update based on life events really is also key.

Megan
Megan
9 years ago

Awesome article!

I have a friend whose parents died when he was very young; had they not had an up-to-date will, his life would have probably gone a LOT differently (probably for the worse, too).

DH and I have to get our will together, and soon. It’s not fun to think about, but the peace of mind is worth it.

Jan
Jan
9 years ago

My will is sitting next to me ready to be signed. My brother in law signed a scribbled piece of paper as he died and left my sister with everything- even though they had been separated for years. His sister was supposed to inherit the family farm (I had been hearing that for eternity). Fortunately, the state in which the farm was held did not accept the will and the farm was passed to the “next blood” which was his sister. My sister got everything else was , most likely his original intent. Had he done a will (he was… Read more »

Jen
Jen
9 years ago
Reply to  Jan

I’d just say to be careful — as pointed out in the article there are state law differences that make any online/packaged form a risk. Suze Orman isn’t going to be the one harmed if there’s a problem with your will!

Shop around and find someone capable to look over what you’ve done. Paying people for services rendered is, well, you know, the reason we have an economy and all!

Adam
Adam
9 years ago

Despite what Jan says, I would encourage people to seek out an attorney. Quick story: I did my will last year and when you make a will you end up signing multiple documents. I signed all of them July 10, 2010 except one that I signed 7/10/2010. I thought nothing of it, but my lawyer did – he thought that if the will were to be contested this could be something that was brought up. So he re-printed the page and I signed it July 10, 2010. Why pay the $1000? Because if there is a problem, your heirs have… Read more »

lawyerette
lawyerette
9 years ago

Great post; GRS has been on fire this week! I really enjoyed the house inspector post+comments yesterday.

People with children definitely need an estate plan. But why would those law students need estate plans at that point? They are likely young, healthy, single, and net debtors.

Last point: I’m loving the personal finance lolcat meme going on at GRS. JD, you’ve got to come out with those personal finance cat posters. You’ll make a killing!

Nicole
Nicole
9 years ago
Reply to  lawyerette

YES. Personal finance cat posters!!

babysteps
babysteps
9 years ago
Reply to  Nicole

Do PS cat posters count as a “new, unique money tip”? 😉

DreamChaser57
DreamChaser57
9 years ago
Reply to  lawyerette

Your point is well taken about the law students. However, they could probably all benefit from an advanced healthcare directive which is often included in estate planning. After all, they are young party-goers who drink copious amounts of liquor. A lot of them also come from privileged backgrounds which increases the likelihood of them being beneficiaries of a trust or having other assets, possibly gifted to them. Last thing, not all law students are in their 20’s with little cares, a lot of them were older with families and careers.

Naomi
Naomi
9 years ago

Your cats have a lot of toys.

retirebyforty
retirebyforty
9 years ago

We really need to get this done now that we have a child. I should add this to my new year resolution and try to get it done before the end of the year.

PB
PB
9 years ago
Reply to  retirebyforty

We actually created a will while I was pregnant with our first child and just about without any assets at all, simply because we wanted to make SURE that none of my husband’s brothers would have anything to do with raising any child of ours. Visits were fine, but that was the limit.

Jen
Jen
9 years ago
Reply to  retirebyforty

Yup, it’s easy to put off and off and off. One thing that came up for us after years of having a will (and durable POAs and health thingamabobs) was when the whole family (now 5 of us plus a grandparent) went overseas. My anxiety ridden mind realized that we would have the entire “front line” of the will all in one place high above the earth. So, we’re looking at putting in something that covers where money would go in that situation. Not that we’d be here to worry about it, but it’s nice to think that we could… Read more »

William
William
9 years ago

Good article, but: what are the ramifications if you don’t have children or other dependents?

DreamChaser57
DreamChaser57
9 years ago
Reply to  William

Estate planning is still a good idea. You don’t want to die intestate (without a will). That means the law of your state will determine how your assets are distributed, you may not agree with the provisions of the law. With making a will, you are in control if for no other reason to disinherit whoever you want, making a gift to your favorite charities, etc.

Nicole
Nicole
9 years ago
Reply to  DreamChaser57

We actually didn’t care about any of the above and had no idea what we wanted for medical directives. Since everything we own is joint, the default was good enough in the event of one of our deaths, and if we were both dead, who cared what happened? Estate planning only mattered to us once we had a child.

lawyerette
lawyerette
9 years ago
Reply to  Nicole

I agree. For instance, I don’t see why I need an estate plan. No one else is dependant on my income and I’m a net debtor. My life insurance goes to my parents. I don’t care enough whether the state or a charity gets anything left over to pay someone to do an estate plan for me.

RRR
RRR
9 years ago
Reply to  William

As pointed out in the article — “estate planning” isn’t just wills. I’m single with no dependants. While I don’t care what happens to my stuff after I’m gone, I do care about what happens to it while I’m still here. If I were to be incapacitated for a few months, I would need someone to take care of my finances (to make sure I still had a home to return to!) and to make medical decisions for me. A durable power of attorney and a medical power of attorney seem to me like they are even more important for… Read more »

Ben
Ben
9 years ago

Here is my situation: Parents are debt free and want to leave everything to the (3) children.

Given this goal, I have a hard time convincing them to get a will or do any estate planning.

What are the tangible benefits of estate planning when the assets will pass to the children through intestacy?

Nicole
Nicole
9 years ago
Reply to  Ben

If their estate is large enough, there can be tax advantages.

chacha1
chacha1
9 years ago
Reply to  Nicole

I would love to see a follow-up post on trusts. My situation is that my parents own a house on property in Florida that is worth close to a million dollars and they have no estate plan. My sister lives in North Carolina, I live in California. Neither of us wants this house, which represents the bulk of the estate (I believe and hope that the ‘rents will draw down their retirement accounts more or less entirely). My understanding is that if the house is simply one asset in the estate, and especially if there is no will, the house… Read more »

MT
MT
9 years ago
Reply to  Ben

If you die intestate, the estate will linger longer in courts, and likely require each of the siblings to lawyer up to defend their interests in probate court.

If there is any sort of underlying tension at all in the family, not having a will could likely cause the potential bickering the author notes often occurs

babysteps
babysteps
9 years ago
Reply to  Ben

My folks wrote up wills when my father retired, shared their contents with me (only child) and then…never executed the wills. My mother’s estate (simple, no heir arguments) took about 3 years to settle. Depending on your parent’s state of residence, the rules are different (each state sets their own). In some, the first of your parent’s deaths would not change much (for example, many ‘community property’ state, although your parents may have some non-community property – inheritances from other people, for example). My parents lived in a community property state, but 3 years is a long time. And it… Read more »

Justin
Justin
9 years ago

I imagine people put estate planning off as long as possible, when do people usually start talking about it? Is it mostly in their 30s, 40s or just whenever kids enter into the picture?

krantcents
krantcents
9 years ago

Many people put off estate planning because it is like buying a burial plot! It reminds you that you will die someday. These things should be addressed and readdressed because things change. It should be done earlier and periodically because you never know when you will die.

Katya
Katya
9 years ago

I think estate planning is very important! it helps everyone who is left behind when you die. Even if you don’t have kids or a spouse, someone has to deal with everything, it is nice to make that hard process a little bit easier. I got my will done with my husband a couple of years ago. I realised that we had a few assets (two houses) and I wanted to make sure things would be dealt with the way we wanted, not just go to the state. Also, my friend’s mother died, and the mother had left everything in… Read more »

Tara
Tara
9 years ago

My parents had their wills/trusts/POAs done decades ago, when my brother and I were small. They encouraged me to do the same, so I talked my SO into accompanying me and doing the same about 5 years ago. I am so glad we have everything in place. My understanding is that the advantage of having a trust is you can avoid probate and lower estate taxes.

Lea Ann Garrison Knight
Lea Ann Garrison Knight
9 years ago

Great article! I see a lot of folks in my practice who know they need basic estate planning documents but don’t want to have a sensitive conversation with an attorney they’ve just met who’s going to charge them an arm and a leg…so sometimes it’s a little easier to get started with DIY docs (from nolo.com, etc.) just to get some of these in place quickly. From that experience they often figure out why they really need a live attorney to help get everything in place properly. A two-step process may be better than not doing anything at all.

JB
JB
9 years ago

I agree wholeheartedly that parents should explain the reasoning behind their decisions, either in person while they are still alive or at the very least, in a letter that accompanies the Will. Had my mother done this, it would have saved a lot of sibling arguing and nastiness following her death. That I was adopted and the sibling is her biological progeny made it all the more stressful because I’m seen on some levels as an “interloper” (as if a 10-day-old child can BE a gold-digger, come on, seriously?) who “already got theirs” and therefore “doesn’t deserve more”, despite what… Read more »

Sara
Sara
9 years ago
Reply to  JB

Why would this lawyer even talk to the sibling about changes? The lawyer’s ethical obligations were to the mother (his client) and not to the sibling. Bad lawyer.

Vale
Vale
9 years ago

My Mother had absolutely everything planned in regards to her will and estate – down to what she wanted served at the post funeral luncheon. I cannot express what a gift this was to me. Trying to make those decisions in the midst of raw grief would have worsened the loss. Her foresight lifted an unknown burden off of my shoulders in hindsight. Bit of advice… in her will she wanted all proceeds from checking accounts, insc. policies, etc. to be equally divided among all heirs. However, she only put one person down as the beneficiary and that trumps what… Read more »

getagrip
getagrip
9 years ago
Reply to  Vale

My MIL had the same set up when she asked me to meet with her and her financial planner and we discovered she’d made all her accounts joint with my wife, with her other children as beneficiaries. What she wanted was my wife to control the assets if she was incapacitated and thought the joint account would allow that. She hadn’t considered that upon her death my wife would get all of it. I looked her in the eyes and said it was very thoughful of her to leave us all her money and cut out the others when she… Read more »

Vale
Vale
9 years ago
Reply to  getagrip

getagrip – That is great of you to ‘point that out’ to your MIL – the rest of her children are indebted to you. I believe that my Mother trusted her eldest son, did not know about the will being trumped by the beneficiary choice, and he knew about this the entire time. She had her will done and sent to everyone just over 10 years before she died and he claimed that he never looked at it. But yet during conversations about her affairs, while she was sick and dying, he would make comments like… ‘and this is mine,… Read more »

fetu
fetu
9 years ago

My father and mother both felt they got burned in the distribution of goods after their parents died. From that I learned that there can be surprises and it is not good to expect or plan on anything. Stand on your own two feet and be grateful if you get something.

My parents did well in their planning before death. However I am one of those whose spouce does not want to face the job.

getagrip
getagrip
9 years ago
Reply to  fetu

I had to convince my wife. But honestly, once kids got involved she was much more willing to discuss it and come up with a will if only for their sakes. With respect to that, I found picking a guardian for the kids, and who had control of the money, etc. caused a real stir among the family. My parents were put out, despite being in their 70s, that we didn’t make them guardians of kids that would be teenagers when they were in their mid to late eighties. The guardian we picked agreed, but was really worried until I… Read more »

Jaime B
Jaime B
9 years ago
Reply to  getagrip

Also, don’t forget it’s ok to change your mind on who to be guardian of your kids. One of my aunt and uncles was specified as our guardian – then, within a few years of agreeing, my uncle told my mom that if the going ever got tough his kids would come first. It was a really awkward situation (I learned about it later of course) but they were still the best option at the time so my mom never changed her will.

Definitely a lesson learned.

Paula @ AffordAnything.org
Paula @ AffordAnything.org
9 years ago

People mostly talk about a will, but I’ve heard that putting your assets in a trust is even better, because it prevents things from going to probate. I wonder what Deborah would say about that. Guess I’ll have to read the book!

Jaime B
Jaime B
9 years ago

I think about this occassionally, but as a single person with very few assets it just doesn’t seem like it’s necessary. My parents are the beneficiaries of my life insurance and my 401k, so that’s taken care of. If there isn’t much left after the house goes through probate, no biggie. I really should look into a durable power of attorney though so my parents can make decisions if they need to. However, my (step)father refuses to make a will. This is the one area he’s superstitious about and feels that to talk about your death invites it closer. I… Read more »

spiralingsnails
spiralingsnails
9 years ago

My husband and I signed our wills (& POAs, etc) just this Monday! My parents openly discussed their wills & guardianship choices when I was growing up so I always assumed it was just one of the things responsible adults do. I’ve wanted to get it done since we were expecting our first child, and two years later it feels soooo good to finally have it checked off my To-Do list.

DreamChaser57
DreamChaser57
9 years ago

I would love to see an estate planning post that focused on trusts.

John the Estate Planner
John the Estate Planner
7 years ago

A very good article – Yes, estate planning is so much more than just a will and deciding what you want to do with your ‘estate’.

Even in the sitaution where no inheritance tax is due there are many questions to resolve and a good number of these are clearly presented in this blog.

If in doubt, seek professional advice – but beware of ‘solicitors’ who may only have spent an hour in law-school 25 years ago on a single lecture on ‘inheritance law’.

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