As an estate planning attorney, I am always surprised by the number of friends and family who have not yet completed their estate planning. For me, it seems like such an important and natural part of adulthood. One evening as I watched MythBusters, I began to think of some of the myths I encounter in my profession. For the first episode of MythBusters: Estate Planning Edition, I decided to discuss some of the most common excuses I hear to prove why everyone needs an estate plan.
Myth 1: I am too young to have an estate plan.
Are you under 18? If you answered no to that question, you are absolutely NOT too young to have an estate plan. Once you turn 18, you fly the coop, and your parents no longer have access to your account information, medical records/status, or any of your affairs. Even if you are on your parents' health insurance and/or still claimed as a dependent on their taxes, they are unlikely to have authority to act on your behalf for medical decisions or money management without court approval.
Upon turning 18, it is prudent to have powers of attorney in place in the event something unfortunate happens and you need assistance, even temporarily. Additionally, at 18, you are of age to make a valid last will and testament. As evidenced by recent young celebrity deaths, unfortunately, we never know when our time will come.
Myth 2: I am married, and my spouse gets it all anyways.
In most cases, your spouse would likely inherit your things even if you die without a will, but you shouldn't leave that up to chance. If you have children from a previous marriage, they will also be beneficiaries if you pass without a will, and if the children are minors, a court will decide who manages their money - not necessarily the person you would choose to make these decisions.
In order to ensure that your assets pass as you desire, you must have a last will and testament. Also, without a will, your spouse will be required to post bond to be appointed over your estate.
Myth 3: I am not rich enough to need an estate plan.
Estate plans are not only for wealthy people. Almost everyone over the age of 18 has solely held assets that need to be distributed when they die. Without a will, you are leaving these decisions up to your legislators and we know the government always makes amazing decisions about other people's money.
By having a will prepared, you are saving your loved ones time and money. In short, it's a myth to think that you aren't rich enough to need an estate plan.
Myth 4: I can't afford estate planning.
Many people worry that they can't afford estate planning, but the truth is that estate plans range in cost depending on the complexity of the documents. I can understand having to budget for this service, but like health care, it is a necessary expense. By refusing to pay for your planning up front, you are likely costing your loved ones even more money after you pass. Without a will, your loved ones will be required to secure a probate bond, and in some cases have to pay large attorney fees after the fact. By removing the burden from your grieving family members on such decisions as planning your funeral arrangements and the distribution of your assets, how can you NOT afford estate planning?
Myth 5: I can't think about my death.
There are two things certain in this life: Taxes and Death. While this is a difficult subject, procrastination and the unwillingness to accept death as part of life are not valid reasons to avoid preparing a will. Estate planning attorneys recognize this struggle and we do our best to make you feel comfortable and get through this process with as little struggle as possible. Sometimes the realization that wills are necessary comes too late - such as when an unexpected death or disability occurs. To avoid the added stress on families during an already emotional time, it is wise to prepare in advance for the inevitable.
Myth 6: I don't need an estate plan because all my assets are joint.
Do you need an estate plan if assets are held jointly? Many couples come to see me who have had jointly held assets for years. They explain that these assets are nonprobate so a will does not control the passing of the assets. This may be mostly true when the first partner passes; however, at the second passing, the assets will not likely be jointly held. Without a will, these assets will now pass pursuant to the state's intestacy laws and this manner may not conform to your desires. Sometimes preparing your last will and testament is in an effort to secure a lifetime plan that is flexible for the twists and turns of life.
I hope you've enjoyed this episode of MythBusters: Estate Planning Edition and that you've learned some of the important reasons why everyone needs an estate plan.
If you would like further information about this article or would like to get started on your estate plan here in West Virginia, please contact me, Anna M. Price at Jenkins Fenstermaker, PLLC by calling (304) 523-2100 or completing this e-mail contact form.