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Wills - Where do I start?
Old 06-07-2007, 11:45 AM   #1
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Wills - Where do I start?

DW and I are long long overdue for the whole will-thing. But procrastination hopefully will make it simpler, since we no longer have minor children, so guardianship, etc. is not an issue.

I guess we need for each of us: A Will, Power Of Attorney, living will or health care directive.

Mutual funds have their own beneficiary designations, but I guess we should review those to verify correctness.

Only real estate is the home we live in, owned jointly, no mortgage. No businesses. Taxable assets are owned jointly. The majority of the non-real estate assets are in IRA's, mostly mine. This is the first and only marriage for DW and I, and plan on it staying that way (at least while both of us are alive).

Want surviving spouse to get it all, then at death pass on to our children. I would want the assets to go to our children, and if they decide to make it joint with their spouse, that would be their decision at the time of disbursement, or later.

Where do we start?

A possible complication... I may get an inheritance soon. It may be large, or it may be zippo. I really have no idea, I never expected anything. I should know in the next few months. I would rather it be zero than some real estate nightmare divided across siblings. Should DW and I go ahead and try to get the whole Will concept started, or should we just wait first to see if there is any inheritance?
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Old 06-07-2007, 12:11 PM   #2
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Just do it. Any possible inheritance can be addressed once it is in your hands. The will documents will protect your plans to provide for your spouse and vice versa. Ya never know when that proverbial garbage truck will come down your street!
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Old 06-07-2007, 12:19 PM   #3
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I can only speak from my limited experience and don't know if this board agrees, but I got Quicken WillMaker Plus 2007 and did a will for DW and I. It has the forms for everything you listed above plus many more you will probably not need. It also has documents specific to each state's particular laws. You can get it from 25-50 bucks on the 'net.

I will admit the forms and the reading I had to do seemed daunting at first, but the more I got into (all the reading/info is in the disk), the more sense it made.

I've heard that some people will do these WillMaker documents themselves from Quicken and then simply take them to an attorney to give them the once-over to be sure everything is good to go. This saves considerable money. Some people (us) just do it themselves without the attorney, go to the notary public and sign away.

The only difficult thing for us was deciding who would get the kids if DW and I died at the same time. That was a tough discussion that lasted three weeks!
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Old 06-07-2007, 02:19 PM   #4
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The other thing to think about is to have a backup person who can be designated to make financial decisions and/or medical decisions for you and the wife should both of you be incapacitated. Perhaps a trusted relative or longtime friend could do this. The documents can be structured such that they only become effective should your doctor or doctors declare you to be incapacitated. These documents can also be structured to let the spouse have first whack at financial / medical decisions if they are able. If for example, you were both in a serious car accident and were tied up for many months someone could pay the mortgage and other bills.

Something else you might want to discuss and include in your will is your burial or cremation wishes so that there are not arguments among the remaining family.

Also, why are you trying to save a few hundred dollars on a will without professional legal counsel. Spend the going rate and have it done right. Skip the computer generated/book wills. Maybe your estate is (or will be) worth a million or more. Spend the money and do it right.
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Old 06-07-2007, 02:45 PM   #5
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Glad you posed this question Telly, I've been procrastinating getting a will done/doing it myself.

-CC
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Do it yourself forms
Old 06-07-2007, 02:51 PM   #6
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Do it yourself forms

Estate planning forms are state specific. Here's an archive which allows you to use a template and create your own....

ILRG Legal Forms Archive - 2,000+ Free Legal Forms and Documents
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Old 06-07-2007, 02:58 PM   #7
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Something else you might want to discuss and include in your will is your burial or cremation wishes so that there are not arguments among the remaining family.
The will is NOT the place for burial instructions. The will is often not read until later, when someone has already decided what to do with the remains.

The instructions should be in a separate 'letter of instruction'.

Estate Planning and Business Planning - Letter of Instructions
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Old 06-07-2007, 06:03 PM   #8
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this is a copy of my comments from a previous discussion on wills:


all i can say is be very careful doing a will or trust especially if you use a kit on your own...its to easy to screw something up as simple as it is........
my ex wife inheireted a house and went to refinance..when the title company looked at the will they said they couldnt go on with the closing...why? 1 word was missing...the will read and to my daughter beth i leave all my possessions ....it was missing the word "only"..... as in only child....we had to pay everyone for the day,lost our rate we were supposed to get and get affadavits from relatives stating shes an only child.......

bottom line with wills is NOTHINGS A PROBLEM UNTIL ITS A PROBLEM


a poorly constructed will just cost my wife and i 400,00 bucks....my wife inheireted a real estate business from her deceased husbands family....the will failed to deal with her deceased husband dying before his parents....her husband had children from a previous marriage which were specifically written out of the will but since there were no provisions for pre deceasing the kids were entitled to a share and we had to buy them out......


key word becareful and read and re-read everything even if a lawyer does it....

here in new york,how the will is executed is a very imortant factor too...as an example there is a batch of questions that an attorney needs to ask you before you sign your will.questions like are you of sound mind and body...do you know what the will is? etc...
i was going to do our wills with willmaker at first and knew nothing of these little requirements.....a will can be declared invalid if anyone contests the wills and the witnesses are asked if these questions were asked..there many things the attorney did that had i done it on my own i would never have known.....
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Old 06-07-2007, 07:06 PM   #9
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What's the best way to choose an attorney to do the will?
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Old 06-07-2007, 10:28 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by GatorBuzz View Post
I can only speak from my limited experience and don't know if this board agrees, but I got Quicken WillMaker Plus 2007 and did a will for DW and I. It has the forms for everything you listed above plus many more you will probably not need. It also has documents specific to each state's particular laws. You can get it from 25-50 bucks on the 'net.

I will admit the forms and the reading I had to do seemed daunting at first, but the more I got into (all the reading/info is in the disk), the more sense it made.

I've heard that some people will do these WillMaker documents themselves from Quicken and then simply take them to an attorney to give them the once-over to be sure everything is good to go. This saves considerable money. Some people (us) just do it themselves without the attorney, go to the notary public and sign away.

The only difficult thing for us was deciding who would get the kids if DW and I died at the same time. That was a tough discussion that lasted three weeks!
Although it is certainly possible to draw valid wills without the assistance of an attorney, this is one area that I would not leave to DIYers. One minor and seemingly innocuous mistake can cause your entire will to be invalid. It may also leave the will ambiguous, causing heirs to spend down your entire estate fighting over it. I have seen far too many cases of people drafting or modifying their own estate planning documents, hoping to save a few hundred dollars, only to have their children spend $50,000-$100,000 or more fighting over some minor issue that an attorney would have caught.

Also, be very careful of standard programs or internet research. Will formalities are governed by state law, and each state could have different rules.
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Old 06-07-2007, 10:35 PM   #11
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What's the best way to choose an attorney to do the will?
Have you ever worked with an attorney? If so ask for 2-3 referrals to estate planning attorneys. Then, look for their profiles online. Many attorneys have websites. Make sure that the attorney actually specializes in estate planning. You don't want a business attorney to do your estate plan because he or she is low on business work.

If you don't know an attorney whose referral you'd trust, ask a trusted CPA, neighbor, family member, or friend for estate planning attorneys they've worked with and would recommend. Finally, check your state's Bar website. More and more states are publishing attorneys' disciplinary records (if any) online. Avoid an attorney with multiple violations.

After this screening, call them up and "interview" them. If you don't get a good feeling, call someone else.
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Old 06-08-2007, 03:14 AM   #12
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i would definetly spend the extra for an estate attorney and not a general practioner. as you saw even a simple refinance got kabashed because of missing parameters. a 2nd marriage can be an absolute nightmare if not done correctly.

NOTHINGS A PROBLEM UNTIL ITS A PROBLEM.
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Old 06-08-2007, 06:50 AM   #13
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I can understand your position, Barry. And I appreciate your advice. Again, I can only speak for my experience and we did what was best for us. We are a young couple (32 and 29) with only a house and 401k, IRAs, and a couple taxable accounts. We have one kid. We know exactly what we want done and who will get our child if we both die. All parties (both families) know this information as well. WillMaker specifies your documents to your state's verbiage, etc. When we have multiple kids and a lot more money, etc., then I will certainly consider hiring an attorney. But because our family has the plans and knows what we want up front, and with only one young child, we feel the documents that WillMaker provided for us will suffice. I'm not recommending this route for anyone else (that is their decision), but I'm comfortable with the documents and that we've met with both sides of the family. To me, meeting with your families and going over the plan is equally as important as the will itself. I sleep fine with this arrangement.
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Old 06-08-2007, 02:02 PM   #14
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Thanks for the links and comments. I'm looking at the state-specific document forms to see what they may look like.

As much of a DIY person that I am (extreme!), I don't plan on using a DIY kit. I am concerned that I (or they!) will miss something. Or something will not be quite right, and statistically speaking, I won't be around to fix it when it's discovered, leaving a big problem for spouse or children.

But neither do we want to throw ourselves at the mercy of a lawyer, without first knowing a lot about it ourselves. There is a lot we need to learn, and make some basic decisions about before we go to a lawyer. Just borrowed a Nolo Press Plan Your Estate book, it's about the concepts and details, not a "copy this form" type of book. A lot of reading and thinking to do.

I'm leading the charge on this, DW is not particularly interested, nor does she feel the "lateness" that we are at this time of our life and have never covered all this before, like we should have. Maybe it's the denial of one's own mortality. Or maybe she's denying my mortality!
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Old 06-08-2007, 02:24 PM   #15
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Ok, another war story.

My parents said they had a trust that they copied from a friend. Dad was ill, Mom long in the tooth, so I said lets get out your trust to see if it is consistent with your desires. Mom went down to the safety deposit box and pulled the puppy out.

She hadn't numbered the pages. I couldn't put the pages in order. It was full of a lot of dependent clauses.. a mess. It hadn't been funded (thank God).

Without criticizing their work I suggested they take it to an attorney to make sure it is consistent with current law. The attorney prepared a new trust and saw to it's funding. The attorney took into consideration their decision-making process and future needs. The trust proved to be resilient as after Dad had surgery for a brain tumor he became manic (completely unexpected by any of us). The trust required that either they both agree or that one of them and a trustee agree when disposing of trust assets for other than expenses. That trust saved their financial lives because Dad would have given their assets away in one of his manic moments.
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Old 06-08-2007, 02:55 PM   #16
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Originally Posted by TromboneAl View Post
What's the best way to choose an attorney to do the will?
Word of mouth or a few simple phone calls.

What I found out was that most offices have an attorney who will handle what they call Estate Planning, which includes...

guardianship
executor
trusts
medical POA
financial POA

...all for 1 price. For comparison, in the NE, my price was $350 for all of these documents for the wife and I. $500 if I wanted a disclaimer will instead of a basic will.

We had our 1st free consultation in which the attorney went over all these documents. There is another thread about this with some good info on what to take with you the first meeting.

HTH,
JD
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Old 06-08-2007, 04:56 PM   #17
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I had good luck with the quicken willmaker product, at least as far as it giving you all the questions you're going to need to work out the answers to.

Sitting in front of a lawyer and using that time to figure out which of your miscreant relatives will be guardian for your children, who will manage the estate, and how much money will be given to whom and when, and so forth isnt a particularly good use of the lawyers time and your money.

I wasnt particularly happy with the fact that the product quits printing and wont let you finish/update your documents once the year is over, but that was easily worked around.

We havent ever gotten around to finishing ours...but I did a full suite of will, medical directives, etc using the willmaker product for my dad. He showed it to a retired lawyer he golfs with. The lawyer said it was good enough and about what he'd get for the $300-500 basic will service from a regular lawyer.
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Old 06-08-2007, 05:47 PM   #18
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at first i tried doing my own and just paying a lawyer to review it . no lawyer would sign off on a document they didnt create or trust. we gave up after 4 lawyers turned us down and just let it be done professionaly
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Old 06-08-2007, 07:55 PM   #19
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One of the good uses of the time with the lawyer is "the worst case scenario" discussion. We have a good estate atty speak at our conferences, and it takes no time at all to realize how easily your wishes can be misinterpreted at your death.

You have to take into account the possibility that your spouse might remarry, and then change her beneficiary to her new husband, thus denying your and her children their inheritance as you wished.

Also, if your estate is over the applicable exclusion limit ($2M until 2009), you are looking at some major tax savings by funding some combination of marital and bypass trusts.

And of course the power of attorney and health care directives are imperative, as well as a letter of instruction on burial arrangements.
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Old 06-08-2007, 08:57 PM   #20
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It has been just over 10 years since we drew up our will and we decided to use a lawyer. We had a good friend who was a lawyer and he recommended an estate lawyer at his firm. We never regretted the fact that we did not do it ourselves. We had minor children and my wife owns a 4th share of her parents' house in England, plus we were encouraged to talk to and then name guardians for the children etc etc, plus living wills. The whole thing cost about $350 but in the end we felt it was money well spent.

We were also living in Louisiana at the time which has special laws for inheritance.
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