No one likes to contemplate death. In fact, we all work hard to do the opposite and stave off our passing and any thoughts of it for as long as possible.
Our bodies are naturally programmed to warn us to avoid or control a dangerous threat (flight or fight instinct). There’s a reason why swimming with sharks just isn’t that popular.
Yet, for as hard as we all try to make choices that maximize the time we have, no one knows when the bell will toll. And as alluring as it may sound, Google’s subsidiary business, Calico, with the ludicrous ambition of “curing death,” is unlikely to help us in our time of need.
According a recent survey, merely 36% of adults with adolescent children have set up a will. And the national average of American adults with a will is not much better, with only 42% having estate planning documents such as a will or living trust.
These statistics are too low. And if you are one of the many that have not created a will yet, chances are your explanation is a popular one. Nearly half of the individuals surveyed who did not have a will cited that they just “had not yet gotten around to it.”
Those who have been negligent in this regard likely rely on state laws for disposing of assets upon an “intestate” (without a will) being good enough. Or, they are of the opinion that their assets are nil or nonexistent, and no one will get too excited about the impact on the distribution of their shilling or the old clock on the mantle.
None of those excuses are relevant or acceptable. The angst and even guilt of relatives and loved ones is generally higher when they unaware of a person's last wishes. This is about common courtesy, not just financial planning or wealth distribution.
For the sake of your family members and those closest to you, planning ahead and creating a will can help limit the anxiety and work that will be borne by them as they settle your affairs.
It’s a mistake to think that unless you have substantial assets, you do not need a will. Wills primarily concern the distribution of your estate, but they also can provide other detailed instructions for other areas of your life.
An attorney can put together a will for a reasonable fee, but you also have the option of using forms from the internet or even write your own will in certain states. However, you will need to make sure the will and its execution and witnessing, complies with your state's rules. You will need to provide details on how you want your estate to be distributed. If you have children who are under the age of 18 at the time of your death, you will need to identity the individual that should care for your children in your absence, in lieu of the state appointing a guardian. You also have the ability to appoint one guardian to care for your children and a separate guardian to manage their financial assets while they are minors. Neither guardian for your children needs to be the executor of your estate.
Think carefully about whom you choose to serve as your executor. This individual should be both comfortable following the instructions in your will and capable of reaching out to all financial and service relationships you have. This includes any and all banking and insurance accounts and outstanding liabilities.
One special reason to craft a will is the ability to incorporate posthumous gifts and donations to organizations, allowing you to extend the impact you bring to the causes you are most passionate about. Keep in mind that gifts up to a certain amount can be excluded from estate taxes, providing a tax-advantaged rationale for incorporating gifting into your will.
Understandably, without a will the state is left to settle your estate, and it may not be handled until months or years after your passing. This can bring additional uncertainty and anxiety into the lives of your beneficiaries. With today’s IRS estate tax laws, very few families need to worry about estate taxes, but for those who do, an attorney can walk you through options that may assist in minimizing the taxes your family could owe.
Procrastinating is unfortunately one thing many of us do far too often and far too well. Don’t procrastinate on creating a detailed will. Young or old, wealthy or not, do it for your family’s future. And don’t mistake a will as the ability to “rule from the grave.” That is impossible.
Hard subject to discuss with family and friends? Give them a link to this article or a printed copy.