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Thread: Writing a will

  1. #1

    Writing a will

    I'm sad to say that I'm 40 years old with a house and a couple of kids and I don't have a will. One of my New Year's resolutions last year was to get one this year.

    I think it's pretty straightforward. Has anyone used any of the services like Legalzoom.com or the software by quicken called Willmaker?

    Thanks!

    mary jo

  2. #2
    A will is pretty straightforward. However, you probably want to set up what is known popularly as a "Living Trust" - i.e. all of your assets are put into a trust - you (and your spouse if there is a spouse) are the trustees. The trust document states how the assets are to be distributed. It acts like a will but avoids the need for probate.

    Typically, the assets go to the surviving spouse and then to the children.

    Like anything there are some wrinkles - i.e. if a child predeceases, does the child's share to to the grandchildren.

    While you are living, the trust can't be used for any purpose other than to benefit you and your spouse. This is helpful if you become ill or otherwise incapacitated and alternate trustees can immediately start writing checks and dealing with assets.

    You didn't state how old your children are but you would also typically need to have something in place that provides for both legal and custodial issues.

    I'm just brushing the surface but it's generally helpful to have it done by a Trusts & Estates attorney who will make sure that everything is covered in terms of asking the right questions. It is relatively inexpensive and as your situation changes, you can have amendments to the Trust - which are the equivalent of will codicils.

    So the short question is that it is extremely simple to draw up a will - basically just write out that it's your last will and testament - have it witnessed by two people - notarized is always good and that's about it. But a will generally isn't the best solution for most people.

  3. #3
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    To add to the good information already provided, there are significant and complex tax implications associated with estates. If tax planning is not properly considered, much of your estate (possibly including life insurance and other benefits) could end up being used to pay estate taxes instead of being available for your survivors.

    The cost to have the appropriate documents to address your estate planning needs prepared by an attorney is usually quite reasonable. I encourage you to get a couple of references and check on the cost.
    Claire

    It doesn't matter what you think, just that you do.

  4. #4
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    In addition to preparing a will, you might also consider preparing an advance directive, power of attorney, medical power of attorney and/or similar documents that specify your wishes regarding health care decisions, organ donation, etc. and who had the authority to make decisions on your behalf.

  5. #5
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    I think you can definitely use any of the legal software or self-guided books to do a basic will. And if you've been procrastinating and are up to tackling that I think you should go for it. Just make sure you have access to a notary who will do wills. I know our bank won't notarize wills.

    Then, when you are ready I think contacting a lawyer to have the full round of documents drawn up is a good idea.

    Just a reminder, if you have a medical power of attorney have a copy at your house! We ran into this a while ago - our only copy was in our safe deposit box. Ooops.

  6. #6
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    For medical power of attorney, it's smart to make sure your primary care physician has a copy, and I have a copy in my chart at our local hospital as well. And the people named as your agents should have a copy as well.
    "Don't put all your eggs in one basket.
    Use an egg carton like everyone else and stop being such a poser." - The Little Book of Wrong Shui

  7. #7
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    We bought the Willmaker program with a different idea at the time, but I have used it several times now for medical documents (directive to physician/living will, medical power of attorney in particular) and the general durable power of attorney. I reviewed the final arrangements document but did not prepare one. My dad already has something written up in his safe. They do make changes according to the state you live in so you have the correct witness signatures, a notary if needed, etc. They also give explanation of the document and instructions, ask questions and give options -- make you think through your choices. They are pretty thorough, especially since they are the "simpler" forms. I would prefer them over the online forms I found.

    I haven't used the will or living trust parts of the program, but I would recommend them for someone who needs a stop gap (something in place now, especially if a spouse is in poor health or travelling out of the country, etc.) -- then, when time permits, review everything with an attorney to make sure there are no unintended or overlooked issues. It is better to have something in place and avoid the costs and delays of probate, as well as to provide instructions and clarity to those who will need to act on your behalf than to have nothing. Chances are having an out of the box will be of some help, and it may be all most folks will need, but may not be optimal especially if you have young children, considerable assets or some complex issues.

  8. #8
    In terms of estate planning, I think that there is no estate tax if the estate is less than several million dollars - it's changed frequently but it has never been lower than $1 million. If your estate is more than this, you should definitely have some type of experienced Tax/Estate attorney have a plan in place.

    What is more likely to seriously impact middle income people is the issue of Medicaid and how much of a spouse's assets must be spent if a spouse has a serious long term illness which requires skilled nursing care. This kind of care is not covered by Medicare and often, the surviving spouse is left with no assets because they have all been depleted caring for the other spouse. It's really a thorny issue since long term health insurance is quite expensive and often doesn't do what it is supposed to do - caveat emptor. Moreover, most people don't actually make use of it - but of course, long any kind of insurance, it's there in the event that you are the unfortunate statistical loser.

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Sparrow View Post
    That always cool to right a well for your wife, childrens or other dependents, as you get easy and stay free from all type of burdens and worries. and starts living happy, healthy and more actively participating in your life. This really something, which is about fact.
    This is SPAM and it's reported. The poster has similar ridiculous posts which sole purpose is to get enough posts to be able to post hyperlinks.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by amarante View Post
    In terms of estate planning, I think that there is no estate tax if the estate is less than several million dollars - it's changed frequently but it has never been lower than $1 million. If your estate is more than this, you should definitely have some type of experienced Tax/Estate attorney have a plan in place.

    What is more likely to seriously impact middle income people is the issue of Medicaid and how much of a spouse's assets must be spent if a spouse has a serious long term illness which requires skilled nursing care. This kind of care is not covered by Medicare and often, the surviving spouse is left with no assets because they have all been depleted caring for the other spouse. It's really a thorny issue since long term health insurance is quite expensive and often doesn't do what it is supposed to do - caveat emptor. Moreover, most people don't actually make use of it - but of course, long any kind of insurance, it's there in the event that you are the unfortunate statistical loser.
    This is correct with respect to federal estate tax. The unified credit (combined lifetime gift and estate exclusion) is $5M through 2013. Some states levy a separate estate tax which may have a different (and frequently lower) exclusion.
    Claire

    It doesn't matter what you think, just that you do.

  11. #11
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    The $5 million federal estate tax exemption is one of the things that may change January 1st. It could go back to $1 million or somewhere in between.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by clairea View Post
    This is correct with respect to federal estate tax. The unified credit (combined lifetime gift and estate exclusion) is $5M through 2013. Some states levy a separate estate tax which may have a different (and frequently lower) exclusion.
    NJ has it's own estate tax and it is lower than the federal rate.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by BarbaraL View Post
    NJ has it's own estate tax and it is lower than the federal rate.
    This is the case in Tennessee too, where the exemption is only $1 million. For a family with 2 children, life insurance policies (if not held correctly) when combined with other assets could easily put you over the $1M mark.
    Claire

    It doesn't matter what you think, just that you do.

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