Half of Americans Don’t Have a Will. Two Wills documents with an Estate Tax form. People make a lot of excuses how Earning Money Associations put off planning for the inevitable. You may be fearful about your own mortality, or think you don’t have enough assets to need an estate plan — or perhaps you just think that things will change so much before your death that you and your spouse can delay making a plan. But dying without a will or more extensive plan only brings further grief to your family.
Anchorage, Alaska, financial planner Michael Branham. Without a will, decisions about who will administer your estate, who will be the guardian of your minor children and who will inherit your money fall to a local probate court, which is bound by state laws, says Cincinnati estate planning attorney David Bross. Start now by talking to your spouse about your intentions. Half of Americans don’t have a will, a Gallup survey found last year. It’s impossible to have a detailed conversation about bequeathing assets before you’ve itemized all the property you possess as a couple.
But both spouses need to have familiarity. Next, learn which of those assets fall outside the scope of a will. IRA balance — as well as assets held jointly. You need to assign beneficiaries for as many accounts as possible, even before putting together the actual will.
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I saw what happened to Jill’s family when she died without a will, and I don’t want our kids to go through the same thing. Use a friend’s or even a celebrity’s passing without a will to ease into the conversation while providing some emotional distance. Talking about your own or your spouse’s death is hard, so stay focused on the reason you’re really discussing this: your loved ones. Decide whom you want to include as an heir. Remember, if you die without a will, the state will determine who inherits — likely your spouse or kids.
If you have minor children, your estate planning conversation should also include a discussion of who’ll care for them. Then think about whom you trust to carry out your wishes. Kara is old enough to support herself, but what about Jason? Who would look after him if something happens to us in the next five years? For couples with young children, the biggest challenge is often assigning custody of the kids, says Bross. One couple took four months to decide between their siblings, Bross recalls, ultimately deciding that the sibling who had no children would be in a better position to care for their kids.
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Don’t make a choice before talking with any potential guardians about their willingness and any concerns you have. I don’t feel comfortable letting the children get their inheritance all at once. They are still so young — if they get a bunch of money at 18, who knows what they’ll spend it on? Particularly if your kids are still young, think about how you want them to receive their inheritance. 18 receive the remainder, says Bross.
If you want to influence either the timing of the inheritance or the way it gets spent, you’ll need to use a trust. Two common kinds are incentive trusts — which might say, for instance, that an heir must earn a degree or pass a drug test before inheriting — or staggered trusts, which let your estate be paid out over a certain time span. I know we always talked about splitting the money evenly between the kids, but what if one of them is earning a lot more than the other? Deciding how much money should go to each of your heirs can be one of the biggest issues for families, says Seattle financial planner Stacy Gallagher Ployhar. You need to consider, if the distribution of assets is not equal among the children, how is that compensated for?
Among the issues to discuss: Did you make a generous gift to one child — say, for a home purchase or advanced degree — that the others didn’t receive? Families that have a low-earning child and a high-earning one sometimes want to divide assets differently because they believe one needs the support more than the other. Ultimately, you don’t want heirs to feel hurt or confused by the size of their inheritance. If you are having difficulty agreeing on a plan for the division, consider speaking with your heirs directly about what fair would look like to them. You don’t have to abide by their wishes, of course, but their input could help you and your spouse find common ground. Once the two of you have agreed to a plan, hire a lawyer to execute it.
This is also a good time to put two other estate planning documents in place: a health care proxy, a living will, and a durable power of attorney for finances. Call a family meeting and tell your children about your general estate plan. You don’t need to spell out how much they’ll inherit or read them a copy, but you should talk about big decisions you’ve made — for instance, if you’re not splitting assets equally among your children, or giving a large portion to charity. Having this conversation will give you confidence, says Cincinnati financial planner David Nienaber. The client was worried that if the estate went outright to the wife, then she could leave it all to someone besides their daughter — and that if his wife remarried, her new spouse would get all the money.