More than 575,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began. This blog is not about COVID (enough has been written and said about it to last a lifetime) but rather those numbers are a table setter to talk about another important topic: the need to have a will.
None of us like to talk about our own eventual demise, but if there is one good thing to come from the pandemic, it is that it has opened the eyes of millions of Americans to the importance of having an estate plan in place. Sons and daughters have been forced to manage the affairs for a parent who has died in the last year, only to find out there was not a valid will in place. Dying without a valid will triggers several things to happen, and they are all bad.
But before we get to the bad things, lets touch on what types of things a will covers, because it is much more than who gets my cash and my house. Wills can spell out:
- Yes, the cash and house
- Your wishes for your funeral and burial
- Life insurance policies
- Ownership stakes in a business
- Personal property and effects
- Gifts to friends, acquaintances, life partners, churches, and charities
- Custody of children and pets
Are those really the kinds of things you want to leave up to your family to fight out and/or the courts to decide? Dying without a valid will on file is costly both financially and emotionally for those left behind.
Family infighting. Your family will be grieving their loss, the last thing you want to do is compound that pain by leaving your estate unsettled. Families have been torn apart battling for assets left behind when there is no will. I regularly speak with clients who mistakenly believe wills are only for “rich people.” That simply is not true. Each of us has an estate. You would be amazed at what families will fight for once a relative has died.
Outside challenges. With no clearly defined plan for your estate, you may find you have long lost relatives, creditors, or others lining up for a piece of your estate. This can lead to a prolonged battle to resolve your estate that can drain resources and hold up your rightful heirs from receiving their inheritance.
Tax liabilities. Proper estate planning can potentially reduce tax liabilities your estate may be subject to. Granted, this is a case where it applies primarily to large estates, but after reviewing the totality of a person’s assets, you would be surprised how many people have a larger estate than they might think at first glance. This won’t apply to everyone, but paying less taxes is always better.
To have a will prepared, and to receive analysis on estate planning, is often not very expensive (particularly when you consider the above-described cost of NOT having a will). I also advise my clients to have a Power of Attorney and Health Care Proxy in place. I typically prepare all three documents as an estate package, although they can certainly be prepared individually.
If you have been procrastinating having a will prepared, or you have one that is outdated, give me a call. I would be happy to review your situation and see if I can help secure the peace of mind you and your family deserve.
Nicholas J. Ingrassia is an attorney and shareholder of Gross Shuman P.C. He concentrates his law practice in the areas of Real Estate & Development, Banking & Finance, and Business & Corporate Law. Mr. Ingrassia also has extensive experience assisting clients with Estate Planning & Administration, and Canada-U. S. Cross Border legal issues. He is admitted to practice in New York State and as a Foreign Legal Consultant in Ontario, Canada. He can be reached at 716.854.4300 ext. 285 or firstname.lastname@example.org.