This month, a friend of a friend suddenly lost her husband. In the days that followed, my friend and another buddy circled the wagons and, along with the new widow’s family, offered their support to her.
Friends are wonderful at a time like this. They don’t have to say much, but they offer a little balance and a sense of normalcy to a sometimes surreal situation. As things unfolded, the new widow’s comrades reminded her that many decisions didn’t need to be made immediately – and, in fact, might better wait until her head had cleared and she had acclimated a bit to her new reality. As it happens, financial matters were well in hand, so she had this luxury.
But that brought up an interesting discussion among the ladies as to the status of their own wills and how recently they’d been updated, and it turned out the three women were all in different places. This isn’t the first time I’ve become aware of people who hadn’t necessarily kept their wills up to date.
Years ago, someone we knew well passed away unexpectedly. He had talked to his attorney about making some changes to his will, but since he thought he had plenty of time, he dragged his feet. When he died, a person he had apparently intended to include was not included. He had also neglected to explain the structure of his estate (and the reasons for it) to his stated beneficiaries, which resulted in hard feelings all around, and some ensuing bedlam – and that certainly wasn’t in his plan.
Another man we know, when the subject came up, mentioned that it had been a while since he’d checked his own will. When he pulled it out, it actually still had his prior wife as executor, and his current wife and children weren’t even in it – yikes!
So here are my thoughts, based on both sad and positive experience…
- Get started - Everybody who has assets should have a will, because any of us at any age could have an accident – and without a will, the state decides where your assets go. There’s a variety of online help available, if you don’t want to start with an attorney.
- Share - Once you have a will, somebody you trust should know where to find it, or you should let your family know how to contact your attorney if that’s who has it. After all, if you’ve gone to the trouble of thinking about this and executing a will, you want it to be available if it’s needed.
- Update regularly - Things change – who you want as executors (are you still that close?) or beneficiaries (did you marry and/or have children?), the needs of your beneficiaries, what assets you have, where you live (states have different laws), all may evolve over time. So, make it an annual thing to look at your will to see if anything needs to be updated. Pick a date -Valentine’s Day, New Years Day. or the day you start your taxes… it really doesn’t matter when, just do it.
- Don’t procrastinate - It never gets easier to think about these things, and the sooner you get this started and get into the updating rhythm, the easier it will be for you as time goes on. It becomes just like paying your life insurance premium – a routine and necessary evil.
My beloved and I started our wills when our first child was born. At the same time, we bought life insurance and made custodial arrangements in case we both passed away and our child (later children) survived. Over the years, as we moved, had more children, and the children grew up and finished college, we changed executors, custodians, and instructions as necessary and appropriate.
When they were old enough, we found an opportunity to let our children know who the custodians and attorney (people they knew and trusted) were. That way they knew what to do if anything happened, and they had the peace of mind that came with understanding we had a plan and had provided for them.
It will shortly be time for us to look at our wills again. When my beloved retires and we move to a new place, we will make the necessary adjustments and share the location of the new wills with our kids. Along with them, they’ll find other stuff, like our updated advance care directives and our funeral preferences. Stuff nobody wants to think about now, but will be priceless when decisions have to be made. We know that from the guidance we received from our own parents.
We certainly don’t dwell on this, but we’ve always tried to make sure we had appropriate arrangements in place. Because, after all, where there’s a will, there’s also peace of mind.
Related posts and info:
- Murphy’s Law and Why Everybody Needs a Plan – Part 1
- Why Everybody Needs a Plan – Part 2, or Where’s Mom’s Checkbook?
- The “Why & How” Young Adults Should Prepare a Last Will & Testament (stacksmag.net)
- Choosing the Right Executor (lawprofessors.typepad.com)
- How to be clear in your will (bbc.co.uk)
- Jason Alderman: Should You Become Executor of Someone’s Estate (huffingtonpost.com)
- The What and Why of a Will (freelawyer01.wordpress.com)
- Parts of a WILL (freelawyer01.wordpress.com)
- Estate Planning Basics (quicken.intuit.com)
ProDoc Legal Forms Software (thomsonreuters.com)
- Complete & Easy Do-it-Yourself Legal Software (broderbund.com)