Just about everybody knows that dying without a will can cause serious problems for your loved ones. Here at AgingOptions, we are frequently asked about this topic, and as you can imagine, we have some strong opinions which we’ll discuss in a moment. First, though, we were drawn to this recent article by Liz Weston on the NerdWallet website addressing this issue and offering ideas and suggestions that will help you quit stalling and accomplish this important task. Please note that, while we agree that a will is essential, we believe preparing one needs to be part of a much broader approach to estate planning. Beware of shortcuts.
Writing a Will Can Help Save Your Family from Feuds and Fees
“You know you should have a will,” Weston writes, “but you keep stalling. No one likes to think about dying or about someone else raising their children. But if you get no further than scribbling notes or thinking about which lawyer to hire, you risk dying ‘intestate’ — without a will that could guide your loved ones, head off family feuds and potentially save your family thousands of dollars.” Weston is correct that the stakes can be high when someone passes away and leaves their heirs with unclear instructions about the disposition of their estate. In our legal practice we have seen families permanently divided and assets squandered unnecessarily, all because mom or dad didn’t take the time to plan adequately.
You might assume that in this day and age everybody has at least a basic Last Will and Testament in place, but you’d be wrong. In researching this topic we came across an eye-opening article on the Caring.com website that helped us see just how widespread the “avoidance problem” is when it comes to preparing a will. “As one might expect,” said the article, “older Americans are the most likely demographic to have an estate plan in place. According to the survey [done in 2017], 81 percent of those age 72 or older have a will or living trust. However, that percentage declines significantly with younger people.” Caring.com found that, even among adults from ages 53 to 71, 40 percent do not have a will, compared with almost two-thirds of the Gen X cohort (37-to-52 years old) and almost 80 percent of Millennials. The reasons for putting off writing a will are obvious, the article suggests: younger people don’t think they need one, and older people would rather skip the potentially uncomfortable process of planning for their demise, a process which inevitably forces them to deal with some tough questions.
Writing a Will: a Few Motivators to Help You Get it Done
In the NerdWallet article, Weston asks financial advisers what approaches they use to inspire their clients to “get it done” when it comes to drafting a will. We’ll share some of her answers. They might be helpful, either to prompt you or someone in your family to start the process.
- Remember whom you’re doing it for. Some prefer the positive approach, using the carrot instead of the stick. As one planner tells her clients, an estate plan is not for you – it’s for those you care about the most. She called it “the best love letter you can write to those you love.” This planner said it doesn’t do any good to “browbeat” her stubborn clients and make them feel more ashamed – instead, she focuses on all the wonderful reasons to get it done. “Providing guidance on what you want to happen after your death — and who you want to care for minor children or pets — can be a huge gift to those you leave behind,” says Weston.
- Visualize what happens without a will. “Then again,” says Weston, “some people need to hear worst-case scenarios before they’ll act.” For these clients, many planners rely on horror stories about what happens when the court steps in and makes decisions about who gets your assets and who takes care of your kids. One planner in Ohio tells the story of a client who ignored her advice to create a trust, instead bequeathing his entire estate to his financially irresponsible son, with no restrictions. “The money my client saved over his 63-year lifetime will be gone within 18 months of his death,” she told NerdWallet.
- Keep it simple. As the NerdWallet article reminds us, getting a basic estate plan done doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive – although once again we would add the warning to beware of shortcuts and partial solutions. “It is the attorney who does the work,” said one planner quoted in the article. “They’ll guide you in identifying the questions you need to answer so a plan can be developed.” It might also be helpful to remember that the plan you make today will probably not be the last plan you ever create: estate plans can and should be updated as circumstances change.
- Your employer might help cover the cost. “For most people, the biggest thing stopping them [from drafting a will] is money,” an adviser told Weston. “If their employer offers a legal benefit, it can make the process of doing an estate plan very affordable and very simple.” Some employers give their workers free access to an online prepaid legal service such as LegalZoom. But these options, though affordable, aren’t for everyone. “[They] are best for people with simple situations, such as those who don’t have a lot of assets and who don’t need trusts.” If you use one of these sites, make certain you answer all questions very carefully, and get your documents notarized or they won’t be valid.
Writing a Will is Part of a Much Bigger Retirement Planning Picture
As important as it may seem to get the will-writing process done, we have a better approach. As we said above, writing a will or preparing an estate plan is all part of a much bigger picture. Rajiv Nagaich often reminds people that a great deal of retirement planning concentrates only on what we want to happen when we die – but ignores how we want to live. That’s why we urge you to accept Rajiv’s invitation to join him at an upcoming LifePlanning Seminar. You’ll hear him provide wonderful insight into estate planning, but you’ll also discover how all the elements of retirement living can actually work together to help you live your life the way you want to live, free from the worry that you’ll lose your assets, become a burden to loved ones, or end up in institutional care against your wishes.
These seminars are offered in locations throughout the region and are absolutely free. You’ll find our current seminar calendar here – then you can register online or call us for assistance. Writing a will is important, but it’s only part of a much more important plan – a LifePlan. It will be our pleasure to see you soon and show you a better way, at a LifePlanning Seminar.
(originally reported at www.nerdwallet.com)