Clouds Ahead: Not Having the Will to Succeed

Personal Money Planning |

By Gary Silverman, CFP®

We’re in the midst of a little (might end up long) series of what I call whack-in-the-head-with-a-fish truths. I promised two weeks ago the next article would be about spending. I then promised the same thing last week. I’m editing my promise today. Now I promise that next week I will cover whatever bugs me the most when I sit down to type.

Now on to today’s message: Get a will.

I’m on a lot of mailing lists. One is from a local estate attorney, C. Dan Campbell (I like calling him Esquire). Every year or two he has his own fish-whacking stories concerning wills. In this latest mailout, he presented a couple stories about how people really mess up the lives of those they love by failing to do estate planning—especially involving a will.

Get a will.

In one, a man comes into the office with his deceased mother’s will to get help with probating it. It looked as though she went online and completed a fill-in-the-blank will template. Unfortunately, she forgot to fill in the “residuary clause”. In doing so, she ended up giving most of her stuff to…nobody.

Let’s just say that it’s hard to probate a will when stuff goes to nobody. Dan explains in more detail about this mess and uses big words—some of which I can pronounce. I’ll summarize for you: It created a big problem that takes a lot of time, money, and inconvenience to solve.

Get a will done right.

Another person, on what I assume was another day, came in wanting estate planning (this is good). Sadly, she informs Dan that her husband had recently passed away (this is sad) and he died without a will (this is bad). Her spouse had a child from a previous relationship (this is trouble). This stepchild of hers was not exactly on good terms with her late husband, evidenced by their absence at the funeral.

Dan then had to inform the woman that due her husband’s lack of a will, this stepchild will inherit one-half of ALL their community property, including the house, her 401(k), etc.

Did I mention: GET A WILL!

A will helps your family handle your stuff when you drop dead. That’s why you also want to get a Statutory (financial) Power of Attorney to handle your stuff when you aren’t dead but are incapacitated (this helps avoid a guardianship); and a Medical Durable Power of Attorney to also handle you (well, your medical needs) when you’re in no position to do it yourself. And while you are at the lawyer’s office, get their guidance on how to title your investment and bank accounts—and then do it.

If you knew all this stuff and haven’t done it, please go to the store, buy a fish (preferably a heavy, frozen one) and have a friend whack you over the head. If you didn’t know this stuff, now you do. So…

Get a Will.

May God protect the innocents in Ukraine.