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Wills, Trusts, Oh My!

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I mentioned in my last post that my husband and I have our final wishes outlined clearly. A lot of people think you need to have money, or marriage, or kids, or all three before you need a will or a trust.

Those people are wrong.

I had a friend pass away. He was 40, single, and didn’t have a lot of cash to his name. He didn’t have a will. I get it, in the same situation, I probably would have skipped it too… until I watched his parents try to unravel the life of a person who wrote nothing down. I watched as they went through the trauma of burying a child, then watched as they went through the trauma of sorting a financial mess. Who did he owe what? Did he have bank accounts? What about his pension? What do they do with his car? Things dragged on forever.

My parents don’t have a will. My mom will point things out in her house and say, ‘If something happens to me, I want you to have this.’ I always respond, ‘Mom, you can’t just point something out and tell me it’s mine. You need to write things down.’ She waves her hand and says she’ll get to that eventually but she never does. I have six siblings, we get along splendidly, but I worry about how those relationships will survive the loss of our parents and the arguments over things.

Let me be very clear. A will is not for you, it is for those you love.

Here is some advice:

1 – Laws are different in every state.

My husband does home repair work for a tax attorney. He asked us if we’d be interested in some trade work. Replacing some wood beams for a legal trust. A trust? But we have no money? That’s overkill! Unless you live in the great state of California. He carefully explained probate in California and why a trust is appropriate for our needs. Should you do a trust? A will? I have no idea. Talk with experts in your state.

2 – Be prepared to deal with your emotions.

I found myself getting weepy at the thought of what to do with my kids if I die. No one will love them as much as me! Do we send them to family out of state? Keep them in state? The thought of their emotions and life upheaval was overwhelming for me. It’s normal to be emotional about the decisions.

3 – Don’t do it all at once.

We met with our attorney several times. I thought it would be easy but a trust/will done right has a lot of questions you might not know the answer to right away. For example, what happens to your estate if just you and your husband die? Do your kids get all the money immediately? On their 21st birthday? 30th? What if the whole family passes at the same time (seriously, they walked us through that)? We walked through health directives. What lengths should someone go to to save your life? Are you OK being a ‘vegetable’? When should someone ‘pull the plug’? Who makes that decision? How do you want to be buried? I couldn’t finish in one go and needed to come back. That’s normal.

4 – Do something. Anything.

Yes, I researched laws in my state. Yes, I met with an attorney. Yes, I put a heck of a lot of effort into the process. Do you need to do all that? No. A simple will from an online provider like LegalZoom would have been better than nothing when my friend died. I would appreciate if my parents wrote a couple dozen post-it notes. Something. Anything.

Remember, it’s not for you. If you love those you are leaving behind, show them how much you love them by making decisions and writing them down.


3 Comments

  • Reply Reen |

    Thank you for bringing awareness to this issue. Some very valid points, but also #4 makes me pause. I am an attorney that has practiced extensively in estate planning (but now in corporate law). Legalzoom may be “better than nothing” in some instances, but there are many gaps in these generic forms that can cause problems in various jurisdictions (I.e. states). The laws vary from state to state in what constitutes a valid will-some require no handwritten (holographic) wills, some have recording requirements, most have execution requirements to be valid, etc. Generally, people need to do research and understand their state requirements. I respect that not everyone can afford an attorney…but find some way to get the information. Some attorney generals or courts offer free online information. Visit a local seminar. Be diligent and proactive. The post-it notes, although helpful, would not be valid in any court of law.

    • Reply Beks |

      Yup! I agree! The only reason I offered legal zoom as an option is because that’s who we used before we hired an attorney (this kind of stuff has always been important to me). They, at the time, offered state specific options. It’s been over a decade though since I looked at their website so I don’t know what they do now.

  • Reply Christy |

    My oldest child is 14, and we just finished our will. It was a long time coming, but my husband and I do feel much better about having everything planned out, just in case. We went through a service my husband paid to be a part of last year, called Legal Shield.

So, what do you think ?