Early in my career, I learned that water causes wills.
“Hey, Julie and I are going to Europe to celebrate her 40th birthday and we both decided we wanted to get wills done before we go…”
It’s a phone call I get once or twice a year, either from a client or a friend.
Something about the idea of flying over 1000 miles of water seems to spark the imagination towards the thought of…death.
“What will happen to the kids? Who would take care of them? Will there be money for them to go to college? What about weddings? There is no way the horrid brother of yours is going to take our kids to raise! Do we have life insurance? We need a will!”
I want to say, “You do realize there are other ways…much more likely ways…that you will meet your Maker than to go down in a coach class ball of fire into a watery grave, paid for by frequent flyer miles?”
No matter that every year during client reviews I say, “You know you really need to see an attorney to have wills done.”
Now I realize what I needed all along to get them to take action is two tickets on a red-eye to Rome.
I remind them I’m not an attorney, but they are usually looking for insight into how the financial side of things should be coordinated with a will. And for the name of a good attorney.
You don’t need to wait until you schedule your overseas trip of a lifetime to have wills done. You need to do it now (yesterday actually).
What are the things you need to consider before you meet with an attorney to draft your will(s)? Here are a few things you may wish to think about prior to that meeting.
Executor. At your death, your estate will go through a process known in Louisiana as succession. That’s the process of paying any outstanding taxes or debts owed by the estate, then distributing the remainder of the estate to the rightful heirs. This is usually a time-consuming process requiring legal assistance.
Guardians for minor children. If you and your spouse both died while any of your children were still minors, someone must raise them. Do you want to decide whom that would be, or let a judge who did not know your or your children make that decision?
Trusts. Do you want your estate to go fully to your spouse or children, or is there some reason you might want to leave some of your estate in trust for the benefit of your spouse or children?
“I want to take care of my wife, but I don’t want to make her next husband rich.”
I’ve heard that line more than once…and spoken by the wife about wife #2 as well!
One way to introduce that layer of protection is to have a trust written into your will. The trust would be created by the event of your death. This is known as a testamentary trust. Language in the trust instructs the trustee to distribute income to the beneficiary (your spouse) but protect it from potentially greedy hands that might want to spend the nest egg too.
Trustees. If you’re gone and you’ve left a lot of money to a trust, it only makes sense that the trust is operated by someone who is trustworthy? A trustee has the job of fulfilling your wishes as expressed in your trust (the written document). While a friend or family member can be appointed a trustee, I think it’s best to name a corporate trustee for professional and financial reasons.
Healthcare decisions. Your wills or an accompanying document can give instructions about who can make healthcare decisions in the event of your incapacity. Who should that person be?
Gifts. Do you want to make a final bequest to a church, college or charity? You can do that in your will as well.
Everyone needs a will. No one needs to wait.
Regardless of your travel plans, call your attorney this week.
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