You don’t want to deal with it.
I don’t want to deal with it.
But you need to get it done.
Then you can put it behind you and never think about it again.
Everyone has an estate. You certainly do. (It’s not just a word to describe the wealthy of Malibu or the Hamptons.)
Yet more than 50% of people with children don’t have a simple will.
And are inviting tragedy that never has to happen.
Because, truth be told? For something this important?It’s not that hard.
So, if you haven’t, you need to start the process of creating an estate plan (or at least a simple will), because not doing so:
- Hurts those you love
- Diminishes what you’ve accomplished
- Leaves you at the mercy of outside forces
How does not having a will, trust or estate plan destroy a lifetime of work?
Here’s what leaving things to chance (or the government) does, and why you need to both do it right, and right now. (Even if deciding who gets what is a little time-consuming.)
Reason #1: Because Probate Stinks
A living trust (as part of an estate plan) and updating your retirement account beneficiaries [401(k)] are two great ways to avoid probate.
But what if you “only” have a will? Then it almost automatically goes to probate.
Probate takes anywhere from six months to several years (if there are disputes or debts) to complete.
And as for costs, for example, a California estate worth $600,000 can expect to pay around $35,000 in probate fees.
So, while probate, the official “proving” of the will, isn’t usually as horrifying as its reputation, it is not only time consuming and expensive, it could subject your last will and testament to challenges from unpleasant people.
Still, probate with even a simple will is VASTLY superior to probate without one. That’s because when you die without a will, strange or unwanted things happen like:
- The children fight over your money
- Your partner gets everything
- Your partner gets nothing
- If you are single and have small children, the state manages the money
- Your heirs don’t know where you hid the Rembrandt
Reason #2: To Pay the Smallest Amount of Taxes
Paying more than you have to in taxes is never fun, but it can be especially demoralizing when it comes to your estate because you’ve probably already paid taxes on that income.
Besides any federal laws, 12 states have an estate tax, and six have an inheritance tax. (Maryland has both!)
The first bit of good news is that you may have heard that many of these states are considering raising the tax exclusion or even discontinuing estate-related taxes altogether.
The second bit of good news is that there are ways married couples can eliminate or reduce the tax burden by setting up trusts inside their wills.
Reason #3: To Protect Your Kin
A well-conceived and legally-recorded estate plan is especially good for protecting young people who may not be mature enough to handle the sudden influx of money.
Simply, you can control precisely when they’ll get the inheritance, how much, and even set up milestones to keep them off the trust-fund-dependent path. (For instance, they get X amount if they finish college.)
I’m sorry to say that I’ve seen a lot of young people become derailed by access to too much “found” money at a young age.
Of course,many adults have difficulty managing money, as well.
If your beneficiary is an adult child with a spouse or partner who has a lot of debt, or who you think might be prone to spend, squander or take the money in a divorce, a well-devised estate plan can protect your chosen adult beneficiary, as well.
Reason #4: to Insulate Your Money
In our litigious world, risk management is a big part of estate planning. Anyone can get sued, and for just about any reason.
If you have assets to protect, then you need a plan in place that protects them.
Remember, once you get sued, it’s too late to build a wall around your money.
And the same kinds of trusts (AB and ABC Trusts) that protect your assets from some taxation can also keep your assets secure for your spouse to inherit, while lifetime trusts can be used to protect assets for other types of beneficiaries.
Reason #5: In Case You Suffer a Loss of Capacity
No one wants to consider this, but those who do, and prepare, are doing what’s best for everyone.
An estate plan with a named power of attorney means you decide who manages your affairs (and not the court).
This is (incapacity), unfortunately, something that happens a lot. It’s simply better to have a plan and not need it than to need it and not have it.