Wills and Trusts:
It's your legacy. Don't waste it.
To die intestate means to leave this life without having made a final will or trust. It is an unfortunate but common mistake. I have been told that a substantial percentage of lawyers themselves die intestate, even some very well known ones.
President Abraham Lincoln was a lawyer and died without a will. Of course he did not anticipate being assassinated at age 56. But the lesson to all of us should be that no one ever knows when that final breath will be drawn.
The late Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Warren Berger, left only a short one page will that did not grant any specific powers to his executor and didn’t say anything about debts, expenses, or taxes. Certainly, he had to know about the importance of properly drawn wills and trusts. So don’t be tough on yourself if you have not taken care of this until now. You are in esteemed company. Still, that is not a good reason to put it off any longer.
Here is why wills are so important: If you die without a will, the probate court will write your estate plan for you. That’s right. The court, not you, will decide what happens to your money and possessions. And that decision may not reflect what you
would have wanted at all.
It is your estate and large or small, it should be passed on as you determine.
Take out a note pad and list your assets. Your assets include your investments, retirement savings, insurance policies, and real estate or business interests. Now ask yourself three questions:
- Whom do you want to inherit your assets?
- Whom do you want handling your financial affairs if you are ever incapacitated?
- Whom do you want making medical decisions for you if you become unable to make them for yourself?
Be certain your wishes are clear. Ambiguity can lead to legal battles amongst heirs and often results in wounds that never heal. Certainly that is not a legacy anyone wants to leave. Here is where a competent, trustworthy attorney specializing in wills and trusts to advise you can be invaluable.
A will prepared by an attorney is not expensive compared to costs for most other legal services. You can even buy books with the proper forms and instructions online and prepare your own will. For some people this method may be adequate. Holographic (handwritten wills) are legal, too. But for something as serious as your last wishes, you want to be certain that it is done right.
Preparing trusts is more expensive than making a simple will. But trusts are not just for the wealthy. Advantages include allowing distribution of assets to your heirs without the cost, delay, and publicity of probate court, which administers wills. Finding out if a trust would be advantageous to you personally is another reason why it is smart to consult with an attorney who specializes in wills and trusts.
In our youth we tend to behave as if we are immortal. Why bother now with wills or trusts? we think. As we mature, though, life’s realities become more apparent. Dwelling on one’s inevitable demise is unhealthy. But planning ahead to protect your estate, family and heirs is a mark of maturity and decency.
Don’t put it off. If you haven’t taken care of it yet, arrange now to prepare a will or trust. You will feel liberated, proud and relieved when you have done it.
Disclaimer: This page on wills and trusts provides information designed to help users safely cope with their own legal needs. But legal information is not the same as legal advice, which is the application of law to an individual's specific circumstances. We recommend you consult a lawyer if you want professional assurance that our information, and your interpretation of it, is appropriate to your particular situation.
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