Based on the most recent survey, 52% of Americans do not have a Will. Usually, not having a Will also means not having a Power of Attorney or a Health Care Proxy.
When I lecture about this issue, I can talk for at least an hour about the need for a Power of Attorney and what happens when people do not have one. Main reasons to get your planning done:
If you do not have a Power of Attorney, in the event of your incapacity, your family is likely to spend over $10,000 on guardianship costs and related legal fees. I’m talking about a $10,000 fee in a GOOD scenario, where everyone in the family is in agreement. The costs rise dramatically if there are family feuds.
If you do not have a Power of Attorney, in the event of your incapacity, you are exposing yourself to unscrupulous people who will take advantage of you. I have seen numerous occasions where this happens. It is extremely difficult to reverse transfer of funds, so do not assume that these people will be prosecuted.
If you do not have a Power of Attorney, the judge may appoint someone who they feel is more appropriate to act on your behalf. I have been appointed as a guardian for a few people – all of whom are not related to me! In other cases I have seen independent guardians appointed – where the judge could not determine who, amongst the family, should be taking care of mother. Do you really want a stranger in your house?
If you do not have a Will, the state law will decide who will get your money. Your estranged daughter will get the same amount as the beloved son who has been taking care of you for the last 5 years. Your second husband will get slightly over 50% of your estate, even though you have only been married for 1 year (and he will have to share the house with your children). If you actually have wishes about distribution – they need to be written down.
Just do it! It really only takes a few hours: meet with an attorney, discuss your plan, review the prepared documents and then sign them. Yes, we are all busy. But the alternatives to not doing it are much worse.
Disclaimer: This article only offers general information. Each situation is unique. It is always helpful to talk to a specialized attorney, to figure out your various options and ramifications of actions. As every case has subtle differences, please do not use this article for legal advice. Only a signed engagement letter will create an attorney-client relationship.