Here’s a shocker: Forbes estimates that nearly two out of three Americans do not have a will. No clear instructions for survivors. No written record of “Here’s how I want my property distributed.”
Even the “rich and famous” are part of this will-less majority.
The artist known as Prince died without a will. So did singer Aretha Franklin. Lest you think this phenomenon is restricted to “temperamental creative types,” Martin Luther King never got around to creating a will. Neither did billionaire Howard Hughes or President Abraham Lincoln.
Experience shows us again and again that dying without a will results in hassles and headaches. When Pablo Picasso passed away at 91, he was reportedly worth $90 million. However, because he’d never taken the time to spell out his wishes, it took six years and a third of his wealth (in legal fees) to settle his estate.
Why don’t more people take this important step? Looking at the names above, it obviously isn’t due to laziness or stupidity. If anything, failing to write a will stems from busyness and distraction . . . and a few wrong assumptions.
This isn’t intended to make you feel sheepish or guilty. It is intended to encourage you to start the process today.
Here are four of the most common:
1. Assuming “I’ll have time to do that later.” You may. But you may not. Here’s what we can say for sure: You and I are not going to live forever. We each have an expiration date.
2. Assuming loved ones (or judges) can read your mind. The subject of death makes most folks uncomfortable. We’d rather talk about anything else. But not talking about end-of-life realities doesn’t make them go away.
And besides, if you keep your mouth shut (and your desires unrecorded), you’re asking others to read your mind. Your loved ones can’t do that when you’re alive. It’ll be even harder when you’re gone
3. Assuming they can read a document they cannot find. If you’ve created a will, fantastic! Well done! Now, do your heirs know where you keep it? And do they know the whereabouts of all your other important financial documents?
I recently heard about a man who left his “stock portfolio” to a favorite charity. His heirs figured they knew exactly what that phrase meant. They promptly delivered what they assumed were all the necessary documents to the fortunate charity.
The only problem? The man had additional stock (of which the heirs had no knowledge and no documentation). And because this “extra” stock account had been inactive for a long period of time, the state was preparing to take legal possession of it through a process know by its Latin name, escheating. Thankfully, another party got wind of these developments and intervened.
Transferring this additional stock took over two years, but ultimately the charity received more than $1 million!
The moral of the story? Make sure your heirs know exactly where you keep both your will and all your important paperwork. Otherwise, your wealth may not end up where you want.
4. Assuming those you’re leaving behind can read your heart. Have you ever poured out your heart in a letter to your spouse? To your children? To lifelong friends? (A friend of mine calls these his “just in case” letters.)
Grieving spouses, children, and friends would give almost anything to hear “I love you!” one more time. You can give the special people in your life that experience by expressing your deepest feelings on paper and storing those letters with your will and other important estate documents. A million dollar inheritance might be gone in just a few years. But a heartfelt letter expressing your affection? That’s something they’ll treasure their whole lives.
If you are one of the estimated 64% of Americans that have not written a will, this isn’t intended to make you feel sheepish or guilty. It is intended to encourage you to start the process today.
If you need some guidance, I’ve got a great checklist of things for you to think about before you go see an attorney. I’ll gladly send it to you if you email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Just say, “Send me the free estate planning checklist.”
No more procrastination and no more assuming. Start planning now.
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