Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
In 2012, a survey from RocketLawyer.com, a legal services web site, found that 50% of Americans with children do not have a will and 41% of baby boomers (age 55-64) don’t have one.
If you are like half of American parents, you haven’t legally determined who would inherit your assets and who would take guardianship of your kids if you died tomorrow.
It was a few years ago that our financial advisor urged Grant and I as parents to get wills. I just kept putting it off and putting it off. Procrastination is one of the top three reasons that survey respondents noted for not having a will. The other reasons were that respondents believed a will was not necessary and that is was too costly.
Getting a Will
Attorney Michael D. DellaMonaca specializes in estate and asset planning. His office is located in Fitchburg, MA. He is going to provide Grant and I a set of two wills so I can finally get this very important task off my list. I am going to share our experience in part 2.
If you are among the 50% of Americans with children that do not have a will, and I am betting that you are, you must read the following interview with Attorney DellaMonaca that answered some very important questions for me about getting a will.
Interview with Attorney Michael D. DellaMonaca
1. We are middle class parents of two young boys and have typical assets. Do we need a will?
If by “typical” assets you mean a home with a mortgage, and some savings and retirement accounts then wills not only confirm who is in charge of your assets for your sons’ benefit at your death, but what the “rules” are, in other words, at what age do they inherit outright, will the home be sold and proceeds held in trust until a certain age, etc.
The important thing to remember, however, that even if your assets are less than “typical”, your will is the document that nominates who you want for guardians of your children in the first place. You need to keep it your decision, not the state’s. This is why that regardless of asset situation, a validly executed will can be crucial.
2. What are the consequences of not having a will if one of us dies? Both die?
In Massachusetts there are intestacy laws that may or may not pass your assets to the persons you would have chosen anyway. However, in second marriage / prior child situations, or situations where both spouses decease, the intestacy law can produce, and has produced in the past, some bizarre results that come nowhere close to what your intent might have been. For instance, although the intestacy law has been improved recently, there are still situations where, if one spouse dies, the other spouse may not inherit the whole estate, and may have to share with other relatives.
Again, keeping with the previous question, the other consequence of no will is you are leaving it up in the air as to whom is in charge of your assets or your children at death.
3. Why should a parent like myself go to an attorney versus just using a quick/cheap online service to get a will?
I’ll be honest: In some situations the will from the on-line service may work just fine; it may be better than nothing. However, what I always stress to clients is that we are not a document drafting company. We are a law office. The advantage of using an attorney like me is that we not only write the documents but we counsel you on what types of inheritance arrangements have worked in the past, what types do not work, and what are some potential pitfalls? There have been numerous situations where parents have come in and pitched an idea to me, and I have pointed out some of the potential problems that they just didn’t think of. To be fair, I wouldn’t expect them to. It’s not their job, so for a few dollars more than an on-line service, why not rely on an attorney to make sure your wishes are carried out, without any unintended consequences?
4. When using the services of an attorney, what is the process like for typical parents like us to obtain a will? How long does it take?
I can’t speak for every office’s procedure, but in mine, we try to make it as stress-free as possible. You call the office to set up a time to meet, and we send out a worksheet for you to complete. We stress to people that they shouldn’t stress over the worksheet. Just answer the questions honestly and do the best you can! Of course we keep all information confidential. You then come in and we spend about an hour to an hour and a half going over some scenarios and helping you formulate a plan that carries out your wishes. Once the preliminary plan is designed, you come in a few weeks later and we finalize it. We can also charge a flat fee in most cases, so there are no unpleasant surprises in that area. Plan on the process, from start to finish, to take about four to five weeks, but we can usually accommodate your schedule if a shorter or longer timeframe is needed.
5. If we had a change, for example, we moved into a new home, would that require a revision and is that an easy process?
We make the documents flexible enough so that if you buy a new home, have another child, or even move out of state, no changes to the underlying documentation are necessarily required. However, in those few cases where a change might be needed or desired, the process is relatively simple and cost-effective.
6. What is the average cost for getting a will?
A single stand-alone will might cost as little as a couple hundred dollars. The fee you ultimately pay will depend on whether you are single or married (a married couple would need two sets of documents), whether you desire to set up trusts or other instruments as part of your plan, and whether you wish to address incapacity issues through other documents, in other words, who manages my health care decision or finances if I become incapacitated?
7. I am sure that many parents like myself procrastinate on getting a will. What advice/encouragement do you have for parents that keep putting it off?
Part of our process was designed with the procrastinator in mind! Just let us help you take those baby steps, and before you know it, your plan will be completed.
Be sure to stop by for part two – Getting a Will Part Tw0- Our Meeting with Attorney Michael D. DellaMonaca.
The Law Office of Michael D. DellaMonaca concentrates in estate planning, asset planning and preservation, and business formation. Give his office a call at (978) 342-1914. You can also check out their Web site at www.dellamonaca.com.
*The above article is designed to provide general information only, and should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinion on any specific facts or circumstances.
Do you have a will?
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