The recently released EZLaw Wills & Estate Planning survey indicated that one-third of parents with minor children didn’t believe they needed a will. Their assumption was that all assets would automatically go to the surviving spouse. Scary! First, these folks seem to miss the possibility that both parents could be killed in a common accident. This is what happened last year to a couple my wife and I were friends with. Without a will stating your wishes, who would get your children? Who would be responsible for managing your assets for the children’s benefit? If you think you are certain of the answer, you are probably wrong. The answer is unknowable because it’s the courts who will decide and the courts have been known to render some very surprising decisions.
Another reason cited for people not having wills drawn was that it was too complicated and confusing to deal with. Yes, many things involving our legal system are very confusing but we shouldn’t use this as an excuse to ignore one of our most basic responsibilities to our family. Here are the three documents every adult needs:
- Will. Your will basically states who gets all your ‘stuff’. If you have minor children, they can’t receive ‘stuff’ so you have to designate an adult (or trustee) to hold and manage your assets for their benefit. If your children are minors (typically under the age of 18), your will says who will raise them until they are adults. Without a will, your assets will transfer according to state law and the courts will decide who will raise your minor children.
- General and durable power of appointment. This is a relatively simple document where you appoint someone to handle your financial affairs should you become incompetent due to an accident or illness. Should you become incapacitated without having a power of attorney, someone must hire an attorney, go to court and have the court appoint an attorney-in-fact. This can be time consuming and expensive.
- Living Will. In most states, this is a downloadable document whereby you indicate your end-of-life wishes regarding artificial life support. It should also include a power of appointment for healthcare decisions whereby you appoint someone to represent you to the medical staff. Without a living will, medical staff will follow hospital guidelines that may be in direct conflict with your wishes. To download your state’s living will form, visit the Resource Center at www.WelchGroup.com; click on ‘Links’; then click on ‘Living Wills- State by State’. Be sure to have this document properly witnessed.
75% of survey respondents said they would address these issues if there were easy-to-use on-line resources. www.LegalZoom.com is an Internet-based service that allows you to produce all of the documents discussed above very inexpensively. My preference is to use an attorney who is experienced in drafting estate planning documents or at least have an attorney review your on-line documents before you sign them.