It is going to happen, so get a will or a trust started now.
By Steve Litt, LCSW, Professor Emeritus at DFI stevelittlcsw.com
Plan now for your and your spouse’s death. If you aren’t married, but are living together as a committed couple, this is even more important. Marrieds have more protections and get more breaks in the law. A will or trust can greatly help unmarrieds.
Too many of us ignore financial or estate planning for death. There aren’t enough of us with wills, especially if we are younger. Plan financially for the death of the other. Discuss how to manage finances, where the money is, who to ask for help with taxes, probate, and insurance. Don’t pretend that you will live forever.
Ways to start a will
There are many internet sources for writing your own will. With a little checking it’s easy to find something that will be a fit. You do get what you pay for, but unless you have complicated estate and trusts there is no need to spend thousands. There are even free sites. Whenever I want to do something I got to Wikihow or YouTube and see if there is anything useful on that site.
There are also software packages that work well. I am not going to review them here, but there are sites that review and rate software for writing wills. I have done my simple will using one of them. I have to admit it was easy. Putting off the task of writing a will is more about denial of death.
Don’t live in denial of death
We want to pretend that we will live forever. I suppose for many of us thinking of death is the same as intentionally shortening your life span, or something equally as senseless. DENIAL!!
A little less than 50% of all adult Americans have wills. That number is smaller with African Americans and Hispanic Americans, with about 30% and 25% respectively.
Does that mean that white American adults are in less denial of death? I doubt it. It may mean they have more access to resources. This statistics are probably more a function of income than ethnicity. Maybe 55% of all adults in the USA don’t have anything to leave their survivors. But even if you only have a piece of pottery to leave your family, they could end up in probate court over who gets custody of the beloved ceramic.
A detailed will can be very helpful in reducing the costs for surviving family members. Be fair to your heirs and don’t set them up to have conflicts over the estate. I have seen bad wills and trusts that seem to have been written with no thoughts of the effect on all the survivors.
A well done will can make life a lot easier for your survivors emotionally and financially. They just lost you and the last thing they will need at a time like that is a messy legal struggle.
Trusts can be complicated and a good one can really help the life of the beneficiaries
In my experience, the best trusts are ones that use a team of at least 3 people to make the decisions, protect the principal from depleting, and are flexible and fairly distributed. Trusts that dump large lump sums of money on the heirs often lead to destructive behavior. It’s like winning the lottery and having a miserable life.
If your trust is written so that only one person is in charge, they may not continue to be as wise and benevolent as when you were alive. Sometimes the passage of time changes people. Bank Trusts that are run by bank employees would be my very last choice. Somehow these Banking groups seem pretty uncaring and self-serving.
I watch many Banks invest the trust’s funds in their own bank stock, charge high fees and be rigid and inflexible or chaotic and random in distribution. Frankly, I wouldn’t ever choose a bank as the trustee. I might place funds in banks, but I would not place trust.
Find a good trust attorney and have a bunch of people read it before you set it up. Strangely, I have become good at seeing the pitfalls of wills and trusts, though I am not a lawyer, perhaps because bad wills and trusts cause so much disruption to families.