By Bill Tatro, Special for USDR
With all of America focusing on American Sniper and a record breaking S&P 500, why oh why would anyone pay attention to such mundane things as a will or a trust.?
Most people conclude that “I’ll get to that later”, “I don’t have enough money to worry about”, “It’s way too expensive”. That’s just a sampling of the excuses.
Most recently a colleague of mine quoted an appalling statistic. Appalling because for over 30 years I have been calling out to America through radio, television, newspapers, seminars and most recently the internet, to get their legal/financial affairs in order.
The statistic he quoted was that in 2014 72% of all the deceased in America passed away without so much as a simple will. Was he accurate? I have no reason to believe he wasn’t but if even only ½ his statistic was true the number is stunning.
The reality is that procrastination is a decision. The decision to allow the government, the courts and the attorneys to determine the what, who and how of the distribution of your assets and even the guardianship of your children.
Most recently a widow confided to me that her husband was an “I’ll get to that later” type of guy. A heart attack cut short any and all plans for the future, including his estate planning. The husband, however, did not go quickly and the Mrs. had the unenviable task of dealing with hospitals, investment firms and even the Federal Government. All without any form of Power of Attorney. Even though she was his wife her authority was limited and gave her a daily dose of hopelessness. Her nightmare came not from best intentions but from a procrastinating husband.
Another listener informed me that his father procrastinated over the cost of a simple will. He died without his wishes in place, intestate. Legal/court fees and taxes decimated his lifetime accumulation by almost 50%. A man who constantly studied the markets and was so careful with his investments, decided inadvertently, to cut off his nose to spite his face.
Unfortunately having a will avoids the intestate problem but not the probate issue. A will is simply a public wish list that can be challenged at the drop of a hat. Ideally the trust is the ultimate answer but even a trust, like a garden, must be watched over and tended carefully.
Another reader conveyed the story of a man who saw the light and decades ago created the optimum estate plan-a living trust, a special needs trust for a disabled child, a charitable remainder trust for his university, powers of attorney, health care proxies and pour-over wills. Unfortunately, at his death, after 3 marriages, it was discovered the trust had not been fully funded, many documents had not been signed, laws had changed and his real estate holdings were in several states. The attorneys simply smiled, the Government was very pleased and the battle between heirs was on. An untended garden can be choked by the growth of weeds. Trusts and ancillary documents must be updated.
Tales like these come to me every day. Perhaps one of the most tragic was the young couple with six children, aged 9 and under. A drunk driver cut the parent’s life short and created a scramble for the guardianship of the kids. The father and mother had continually disagreed about who finally would take care of the children. The courts ultimately decided the outcome since nowhere was it written the parent’s final wishes. They believed they were just too young to do any estate planning.
Procrastination was the winner. The children were the losers.
In this world there are few things we can control, however, your estate plan is one of them. 72% is appalling.
I now re-dedicate myself to make sure you do not procrastinate.
It’s time for you to control the what, who and how.
If not now? When?
If not you? Who?