If you have read my bio you know that I do several things for my clients. I help them with financial planning, investing, insurance and taxes. All of these things can have a lasting effect on their future as well as on the things and the people that they will eventually leave behind. So, when I have a couple come into my office, what single item holds the greatest importance in my eyes? If the couple is married, and especially if there are minor children in the family, nothing is more important to me than if they have a last will and testament – a will.
Will Power Is Critical
Last year I learned of a tragic scenario playing out in the family of a client. A married couple died in a car accident, without a will in place. The respective families then went to court to battle over who would care for the children. The battle became fairly bitter. In the end the judge over the case determined that the feelings and actions of the two families were so negative that it wasn’t a good situation for the children to be in – so he made them wards of the state and put them in foster care! The thought of that happening to children crushes me. There were two families who loved these children and would have cared for them and instead these children will grow up in multiple foster homes, separated from each other and subjected to who knows what. All of this happened because their parents didn’t take the time (an hour or two) to create a will.
Now, I know that this may seem to be an extreme example. However, it is extremely common for families to have bitter disputes over children, personal possessions and money. In this business I have the opportunity to witness first hand what happens to families when even a little money comes in to play. Based on my experience and the experience of others I know, I would say that it is the exception when there are not hard feelings that come out between family members when these kinds of decisions have to be made – especially under the added stress of having lost a love one. I know of way too many people who no longer speak to a family member because of such disputes. If you have anyone who depends on you or if you have any love or concern for those you leave behind there is no excuse not to do them the service of knowing your wishes in these regards.
Go Home and Don’t Come Back
With that in mind, would it surprise you to know that I have sent clients home to get a will and asked them not to come back until it is done? These are clients who are working with me to complete full financial plans and who have their assets invested under my care. Often they have many things to do in order to achieve their goals and fulfill their financial plans. However, if we have talked about a will previously and they come back for a subsequent appointment without having completed one I have been known to do nothing else with them until it is done. As a side note, or an underscore to how important I feel this is, I want to remind you that I do not get paid when my client gets a will. So there is no ulterior motive here.
How Do I Get The Will?
There are a couple ways. The first is to find a competent and respected attorney. This is a costly route, but if the attorney is well-versed in the estate laws in your state it can be the most sure way of knowing that your wishes will be honored in a court of law (and not easily challenged by those who want to change it).
A second way is to get a will online. There are several sites out there that provide this service, often for a small fraction of the cost of an attorney. You will find many arguments for and against using such a service. I do not claim to be competent enough in this area to know for sure which is best. You must do the work at this point and determine what you feel best about and then move forward.
One thing I am confident about, though, is that you need a will and if there is no way that you are going to be able to afford an attorney then by all means please at least use one of these sites. The prices that I have seen run between $60 and $140. At least in this way there will be documentation of what your desires were. Now, go home and get a will and don’t come back to this site until you have!
* This article is commentary on basic principles. In no way should the things said in the article be construed or interpreted to be advice for your specific situation. Before making any financial decision you should consider all factors and consult with a professional.