Some estate plans are more effective than others. What the most effective plans have in common, however, is a well thought-out will that works in concert with other estate planning tools.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it true that most people don't have wills?
Yes, there have been published reports that as many as 60% of the more than two million Americans who die each year do not have valid wills.
Why don't more people have wills?
Most people don't realize how important a will is. Some think they don't own enough property to need one. Some believe that life insurance or joint ownership arrangements are sufficient. Some think their spouse inherits everything automatically. But apparently most simply procrastinate.
What happens when people die without wills?
Their state's laws of "descent and distribution" come into play. Amounting to a "state-written will" for those who haven't made their own. The laws vary from state to state.
Aren't state laws adequate for most situations?
No, because the state laws are impersonal. The laws don't make exceptions. They may deplete your estate unnecessarily with fees and expenses.
The laws are written to predict your desires concerning who should be your administrator or who should be guardian of your surviving minor children. They cannot make bequests to charities and friends. You must make your wishes known via a will, a trust or other arrangement.
Does everyone have an estate?
Yes, if they own anything at all. The term applies not just to real estate but to cash, all property, investments, retirements, retirement plans, life insurance and other forms of assets.
Doesn't joint ownership make a will unnecessary?
No. That's a common misconception. Joint ownership may create unnecessary estate taxes and may even cause the incurrence of gift taxes. It may also deny you complete control over your property while you're still living. Joint ownership is a poor substitute for a will but can often work well in conjunction with one.
Should both husband and wife have wills?
Yes. It's important that each person has a will, even though the two wills may be essentially the same. The wills should complement each other and take into account any special bequest to other family members.
Can I write my own will without hiring an attorney?
You can, but it's not advisable. Many "homemade" wills are declared invalid by the courts. There is no substitute for the professional expertise of a competent attorney.
Should a trust be created in a will?
You may be able to reduce (or practically eliminate) taxes on both husband's and wife's estates through the use of trusts created in your will. Other types of trusts can relieve a surviving spouse of the problems of managing investments. Another type of trust can enable you to make an ultimate charitable gift while providing your survivors with a life income. Your attorney can give you more information about trusts.
Aren't charitable bequests made mainly by people who have no close relatives or whose estates are so large there is plenty left over?
Not always. Even modest estates today are larger than the average estates of past generations, and more people are finding it desirable and possible to make charitable bequests after providing adequately for the needs of loved ones.
Should I notify a charitable institution that I have included it in my will?
This can be a good idea. It can affect long-range planning, often in vital ways. We are always grateful to learn of a bequest which has been planned and can sometimes assist the person making the gift by providing information about ways to give more effectively and assure that property will be used as intended.