It’s New Year’s. Revelry, champagne toasts, traditions like eating lentils or black-eyed peas at midnight, looking past at 2017 and forward to 2018 and, of course, resolutions. If you don’t have a resolution, I have a suggestion, albeit one that is somewhat sobering (pun intended). Make 2018 your year to write a last will and testament or update the one you already have.
A cousin of Martin’s recently put a query on Facebook asking if friends had a will. I was surprised, though I shouldn’t have been, when most answered they did not, or had not updated their will in years. One stated she only had one heir, assuming everything would go to that person. We had a saying when I was in banking, “If you don’t have a will, the state has one for you.” If you die intestate (without a will), state law determines who your heirs are.
Case in point, a 72 year-old man lost his wife to cancer. She died intestate. State law where he lives dictated that their two children each inherit a third of her assets including the house, which was not titled to protect her husband. Her husband, their father, had to sell his home in order to pay the adult kids their portion of the inheritance. All the proceedings were determined by a probate judge, requiring court costs and attorneys.
More money was spent on the costs of going to probate court to settle her estate than would have been spent on writing a will. In the state where I live, probate court can be avoided altogether by putting assets into a trust, saving as much as 10 – 20% of the value of your assets. And, no, the kids didn’t blink an eye at dear old dad having to sell his home to pay them their share. He and his wife just assumed everything would go to him — a costly mistake both emotionally and monetarily.
Why don’t people write a will or update the one they have? As someone who didn’t update for years, my personal experience tells me it is a reluctance to face our mortality. It wasn’t until Martin’s condition jolted me into reality that I looked death in the eye and got serious about the consequences for either of us when the other dies.
In addition to a will, other considerations are powers-of-attorney for health and financial oversight in the event you can’t make your own decisions. Do you want to be kept on life support or would you want a do-not-resuscitate order? These are also decisions to ease the burden on loved ones so they can carry out your wishes instead of guessing about what you may want, arguing among themselves or having to go to court. Whew!
Wait there’s still more! To reduce the burden even further, you can leave detailed instructions for your funeral. Or maybe you don’t want a funeral. My mother didn’t want everyone standing around looking at her body and crying over her in a coffin. She chose to be cremated immediately upon her death. Our family respected her instructions. You may even pre-pay your funeral expenses or designate an amount in your will to be used for that purpose.
See? There are lots of decisions to be made. Someone once told me they didn’t care because they would be gone. In other words, they were leaving it for the relatives to sort out while also grieving. To me, that’s just plain cruel, especially if you love those you leave behind.
Mark Twain, the American author and humorist, had this to say about New Year’s resolutions, “Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving Hell with them as usual.” That pretty much sums up the way I was when it came to resolutions. Consequently, I stopped making them. If that’s you or even if it’s not, commit to 2018 as the year you make just this one resolution — and keep it – write a will and other documents for the sake of those you love. It is the best gift you can ever give them.
Happy New Year!
Smart…very smart! Thanks, Kathy for the reminder! ~ Lynn
Great post – and so important. My husband and I have a trust and a will but both need to be updated. It’s definitely on our to-do list for early 2018. Happy New Year Kathy!
I absolutely agree.
Different countries / states have their own rules, so it is best that you make your will according to the jurisdiction you are living in. A friend whose father died very young, had died intestate, so her mother had effectively to take her 12 year old sons to court to get them to waive their rights to her husband’s estate, all at a time when everyone is still grieving. So hard.
We have a will in place, also power of attorney (shared between our survivor and my two sons!), so hopefully all will be well.
It takes a relatively few dollars, and saves many more to be prepared.
Just do it!
Having lost some dear people and seeing how disorganization plagues the family even with a will, I’ve resolved to organize our information this year. That way, whoever is left to settle our affairs knows where the documents and keys needed can be found. Oh yeah, and get wills for where we live now! When we moved from another state we had wills but this state has different laws. Gotta get that updated!
Welcome back and Happy New Year!
Great advice and a kick start to review our wills in 2018. Most financial advisors make similar recommendations especially about power of attorney for health and for financial arrangements.
On another note, I love your writing. The style of this post reminds me of your post on mindfulness and areas of life that need attention. It was written several months ago but I keep going back to it as a reminder of what counts in a good life. I wish you and your husband many blessings in 2018.
I always enjoy your spouts they drive nails for truth. This is a big nail and will stop me from putting a security of estate on hold.
All my life I have seen the family fight and steal, plunder as a kid I could see the hurt it caused. I could see what it did to the fabric of family. The rips probably, I will never see mended. Because of the guilt they have accumulated over many funerals.
Thanks for the enlightened path, it straightens.
Important and timely advice! My exhusband died without a will and left my adult children with a huge legal and financial mess that took years to sort out.
Thank you for the reminder Kathy. This was on my list of things to get done last year. We will definitely get this done in 2018. Wishing you health and happiness in the New Year!
Great advice here, Kathy! My best friend since kindergarten, Sandra, died of breast cancer three years ago. (I’m sure you remember her). As Intelligent and successful as she was, her will was from 1985. I was shocked when my ex-husband of 20 years called me and informed me he was named her executor. He was surprised as well. Sandra was never married and had no children, only a $10,000 bed bug beagle dog Sammy that she had purchased just months before her death. Of course the company in Florida would not buy the trained dog back! Months of work to empty the contents of her house, plan a memorial service, find a home for Sammy, and all the while dealing with the grief of losing my best friend. I have a will because Sandra, years ago, told me to get one!! That’s what baffled me, and still does. I had to chuckle when her vintage SAAB convertible was driven off by an old friend that Sandra hadn’t spoken to in years because they had a “falling out!”. So good advice, GET A WILL AND UPDATE IT AS NEEDED! Happy New Year to you! I so enjoy reading your blog and planning my retirement from teaching.. maybe one more year. Billie
I could not agree more.
My son in law just buried his 53 year old father. No will. It is horrible. In the end it is looking as if the farm (200 acres) will have to be sold in order to pay the probate and taxes -which is accumulating fast because there is no way to pay them without the money from the cattle. The cattle on the farm are still in the field because the judge would not release them for sale (it is now the worst season to sell and a 24 year old son – who has never farmed- is attempting to keep them alive in the bitter cold).
Our will is 30 years old- and we have added a codicil- but it needs to be updated since we now live in a probate state instead of Arizona. I need to look into a shelter. I will put it on the calendar. Thanks for the reminder.
We finally got our will and health directives taken care of this year. It was a big relief because it was always at the back of our minds that we should do it. We had already arranged and paid for cremation. We didn’t want our kids to have to make tough decisions when they were grieving and that was the nicest gift we could give them. Happy New Year!
Kathy, good on you for addressing this topic. What’s that old saying about death and taxes? Life is just so much easier when the business of death is planned for. There have been instances in my family that have demonstrated the outcomes with and without a will. Taking care of business makes life easier even before death, i.e. joint accounts with my aging mother allows me to access her account to pay her monthly bills with ease. Careful consideration must be given to who is chosen to be executor and power-of-attorney. A relative isn’t always the best choice. I revisited my will at the time of my retirement 4 years ago. Circumstances change over time. Happy New Year.
Thanks for the wake-up, Kathy. I retired 6 months ago and found your blog; it was helpful to learn I was experiencing the same feelings that many do! It’s a lot of time to structure, so I’m going to work a couple days of week in this new year. Still, I wouldn’t change it because I’m enjoying most of my leisure time, especially the mornings!
Excellent advise. Here is something that can be an easy first step for your home.
California passes a law that took effect January 2016 that allows homeowners to change their home titles to indicate who should receive their home in the event of death. This avoids probate completely and is revocable at any time. At the time of the article, half of the states offered something like this.
Kathleen Pender wrote a good explanation in a November 2015 San Francisco Chronicle article. Short quote below and the link as well.
“Starting [January 2016], California homeowners will have a simple, inexpensive way to leave property to their heirs without it going through probate, which can be costly and time consuming.
“It’s called a revocable transfer on death deed and it’s similar to payable on death accounts offered by banks and other financial institutions. These accounts have been nicknamed “poor man’s trusts” because they avoid the need to set up expensive trusts to keep assets out of probate.”
Thanks for the prod, Kathy. I have a will and advanced health care directives, but I’m not that confident in the latter. With your encouragement, I just signed up for a one-day class at my Senior College on advanced healthcare planning.
Instead of a Will, a revocable Trust, can save you time and money from having to go through the courts. We are just finishing up our paper work with a lawyer. So glad we’re doing this! Happy New Year!
Yes, Joyce, great suggestion…a revocable trust is what we set up with our attorney to avoid probate. It is cheaper to set up a trust than going through probate. A will is embedded with our trust agreement. We also set up other documents at the same time such as power of attorney for health and financial. Thanks for the reminder!
We did this last year. We went to an elder care attorney and had new POA’s and medical POA’s done. I am my husband’s POA but we made my daughter my POA due to his memory issues. He was fine with me doing that. The attorney carried the distributions out past my daughter in case she were to die before the grandchildren were of age to inherit. It was a very thorough will. I am also going to create a binder called “What you need to know if I die”. If something happens to me I want my daughter to have a complete record of every investment, insurance policy and passwords needed for accounts. I will leave the numbers for our broker, tax accountant and attorney. I will also leave a page with suggestions of how to help her father if he is still alive. He would definitely not be able to live alone and I would let her know what I would suggest. I plan to update this every January. Hopefully it will be years before this is needed but if not it will be ready. Good luck to you and Martin in this new year.