Is Your Family Ready for Your Death?

The answer for millions of Americans is no.

You worked hard all your life and probably paid a hell of a lot of taxes. When you die do you want the bulk of the money to go to the government, lawyers or your loved ones?

I thought so.

You want your loved ones to be protected even after you’re gone. Yet, for millions of Americans, financial problems for your family could begin the moment you’re gone. That’s because many people don’t have a will. So what happens if you die without specifying how you want your assets disbursed? The more millions you have worked hard to accumulate, the more potential problems loom if you don’t have a will and update it from time to time.

A Star Who Had Millions

Take Robin Williams.

He was a one in a million, but he was also like millions of Americans—-he wasn’t clear about who would inherit his assets. So his family was recently battling over them.

That’s the compliant of a financial advisor.

“If this continues, it will create a lot of legal fees for them for sure,” says Reid Abedeen, a partner at Safeguard Investment Advisory Group, in Corona, California.

That’s because Williams’ estate could be destroyed by legal battles, he warns.

These battles between Williams’ widow and children, he adds, potentially could last for years.

The lawyers, not Williams’ loved ones, he warns, could be the biggest beneficiaries of his huge estate.

Abedeen says he was not surprised by a recent study by RocketLawyer.com that showed millions of married Americans with children either do not have a will or lack an updated one.

Many Are Worse Off Than Williams

About half of married Americans have no will, according to RocketLawyer. And 80 percent of those between 35-44 also don’t, the survey said.

Abedeen says the most startling part of the study is that 41 percent of baby boomers, age 55 to 64, lack a will.

The RocketLawyer survey comes at a time when a senior care resource group found similar problems.

Only a little over half (56%) of American parents have a will or living trust document, according to a new Caring.com survey of adult children. And 27% of parents do not have estate documents in place. And a little over half of adult children don’t know where their parents keep estate documents, said Caring.com, which is affiliated with Bankrate.com.

Why Do So Many People Tempt Fate?

“People often find the process of writing a will expensive and inconvenient,” explains Charlie Moore, CEO of RocketLawyer. He says his group is using an online platform to write 60,000 wills a month.

“Many people don’t have a will because they look at it as an unpleasant experience, so they put it off,” adds Jeffrey Feldman, an advisor in Rochester, New York People “know that they need to do it, so they will get to it eventually, but that time never comes because they say,‘I’m healthy and I won’t need it.’ So it’s a low priority.”

Parents without wills, Feldman says, “love their children, and I think the concept of dying and not being there for them is not an option they consider.”

Another problem, Abedeen adds, is financial advisors. Many of them never raise the issue. That’s because sometimes they are only focusing on one aspect of clients’ lives. They assume that some other adviser is handling the clients’ ignoring estate planning. So they don’t push clients on a will.

How Often?

Moore says wills should be reviewed once a year. Feldman warns that, those without an adviser, often “don’t know” when an estate plan should be changed.

Financial professionals say anyone with substantial assets that can change in value, or with dependents, should prepare for the possibility of premature death. That’s because if one doesn’t, the state can take them.

“So if you want all your property to go to your spouse, the state’s intestate laws might say that 1/3 goes to the spouse and 2/3 goes to the children, not what you want,” Feldman warns.

How should one legally prepare for death so that one’s loved ones don’t suffer a second shock that goes on for years?

Estate experts recommend these minimum steps.

*A certified will is the most basic estate-planning document. It tells the world who gets what.

*Document and update your instructions.

*Crucial documents include your living will, power of attorney, durable power of attorney (including for health care), joint ownership and living trust.

About The Author

Gregory Bresiger

Gregory Bresiger is an independent business journalist from Queens, New York. His Personal Finance articles have appeared in publications such as The New York Post & Financial Advisor Magazine. He is the author of the eBooks “Personal Finance For People Who Hate Personal Finance” and “MoneySense”.