Most lawyers have stories they can tell about the extent to which clients go to avoid planning their estates or preparing last wills and testaments. Clients have been known to ask an attorney to prepare a will, but they offer one excuse after another to avoid going back to sign it. The simple truth is that last wills and testaments force people to confront and acknowledge their mortality which is something that many people are not ready to do.
It is estimated that more than half of the people between ages 55 and 64 do not have a will. The 45 to 54 age group is even worse with 62 percent of them failing to make plans for the distribution of their assets after they die. Here are four of the most common excuses people use to avoid last wills and testaments.
"Everything I own is held jointly with my spouse"
As a general rule, title to property jointly owned with another person, such as with your spouse or children, automatically passes to the surviving co-owner. While this might appear to support the argument against last wills and testaments, it fails to take into consideration what happens once the property is held in the name of only one person. A last will and testament acts as a safety net to ensure the property passes according to the wishes of the owner.
"If I don't have a will, my assets will pass to my heirs anyway."
Each state has laws allowing for assets of a deceased individual to pass to his or her heirs even in the absence of last wills and testaments. A will allows you to decide to whom and how your estate is distributed. For example, if you die without a will, state law might divide your assets between your spouse and your children. This could create financial problems for your spouse that you could avoid by leaving all or most of your estate to your spouse.
"It's just me and my children, so I'm okay with everything going to them."
State intestacy laws that govern the distribution of your estate if you die without leaving a will usually give the assets to children when they are adults. Most states designate 18 years of age as the age of majority, so a child inheriting property from a parent would receive it without restrictions while still a teenager. Last wills and testaments allow parents to set up a trust to hold the money and other assets until the child is older and financially wiser.
"Lawyers charge a lot of money for last wills and testaments"
Many law firms prepare simple last wills and testaments at a reduced cost as a means of attracting clients. Some community organizations, such as senior citizen centers, offer simple wills for free. For individuals who feel comfortable preparing their own last wills and testaments, there are a number of websites that offer templates and guide you through the process of preparing them for a nominal charge.