Skip to Content

Will I or Will I Not Get a Will?

06.05.06 written by

By Charles E. Ringer, Esq.

What have you done to plan out your estate? The sad truth is that most of us — some 70% of adult Americans — have neglected to write a will. Some think their assets are just not enough to worry about, others worry that the attorney’s fees are too high.
But wills aren’t just for the wealthy or the near death. If you’ve got a family and a home — not to mention a savings account — you should definitely have one.

For most people, the first time in your life that a will becomes imperative is when you have children. Forget about your assets for a second. In the terrible event that you and your spouse die at the same time without a will, it falls to a probate court judge to name a guardian for your minor-aged children — not a pleasant prospect. That’s why it is a crucial first step to name a guardian you can trust in your will. I always recommend naming an alternate guardian in the will, as well, in case something happens to your first choice.

Writing a will, of course, is also your chance to clarify who gets what in your estate. Before you do that, however, you have to add up your assets. That includes your house, your investments, and the value of your retirement plan and the payout of your insurance policies. My experience is that most people are worth more than they think. Once you’ve got your assets listed, you can decide what you want to leave to whom and who will be executor of your estate. I also recommend you make sure that the beneficiaries listed in your will match the beneficiaries you name on your insurance policy and in your IRA, 401(k), etc. If not, the beneficiaries named in these other documents will be the ones who actually get the money not those listed in your will.

Now, if you want to do more complex estate planning, chances are you’ll have to set up a trust. The primary reason people go to this kind of trouble is to protect their heirs from having to pay humongous estate taxes that can turn a mountain of assets into a molehill. Remember, for $1 you leave behind over $2 million the IRS will take at least 45 cents in estate taxes. With the trusts I prepare, a husband and wife can, in almost all cases, leave up to $4 million to their heirs and pay NO Federal estate tax.

Once you have a will in place, don’t forget to update it regularly. You’ll need to amend it whenever there is a big change in your life like a birth, a death or marriage, or even if you move out of state. A will may seem like a hassle, but that’s nothing compared to the troubles your heirs will endure if you are unfortunate enough to die without one.

NOTE: This general summary of the law should not be used to solve individual problems since slight changes in the fact situation may require a material variance in the applicable legal advice.

MJB Plan Determination Procedures