As of this writing, it’s a fact that almost 60% of Americans don’t have a basic will, and that’s a big problem.

Statue of Liberty National Monument, Ellis Isl...

Statue of Liberty National Monument, Ellis Island and Liberty Island, Manhattan, in New York County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the big reasons that most families don’t yet have this in place is because of some incorrect thinking about whether it’s right for them, or if it’s even necessary. And sure, some people just haven’t gotten around to creating a will or trust. Others think they don’t need an estate plan because they’re not rich. I’ve even heard from people that they don’t want to put it in place because when they do, it’s sending some sort of death wish into the universe (or some such).

Well, I’ll start by busting THAT myth: Preparing a plan for your succession will not speed your demise. Easy enough.

But here’s the problem–if you continue without an estate plan, you could leave a legacy of bad feelings and attorneys’ fees.

But, I’ll move off of that easy one, and speak to some of the more common misconceptions out there. I’ll start with two this week, and address three more in a future Note.

MythBusting #1: Only rich people prepare estate plans.

Do you own ANYTHING? Because if so, you need a will. You see, a will allows you to designate who will receive your property should anything happen. Continuing without one ensures that your assets will be distributed under the terms of your state’s “intestate succession” laws. That means your money and property could end up with family members you haven’t spoken to in years, instead of who you’d really like to see control your assets.

I won’t go into all of the different components of a will, trust, health care directive etc., as my purpose here is to emphasize that failing to plan is simply a decision to trust your assets to government bureaucrats.

Even if you think your situation is pretty straightforward, you may feel more comfortable hiring a lawyer to guide you through the process.

MythBusting #2: Everything goes to your spouse, if something happens.

Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. We deal with clients from different states around the country, and state laws vary. In fact, in most states, if you continue without a will (intestate), your inheritance will be divided among your spouse and your children. In New York, for example, when someone dies intestate, the spouse gets the first $50,000 of the estate and what’s left is divided 50-50 among the spouse and the children.

You can imagine how this could create all kinds of problems, particularly if your spouse was financially dependent on you or you have children from a previous marriage.

I’ll send a few more in the weeks ahead, but I hope you can already see that things are not always as we “think”.

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