Writing a will is not a somber reminder of death and what will happen after your passing, but rather a way to be in control of your possessions and their distribution afterward.
“I think the biggest thing why people haven’t gotten around to writing their will is either they don’t want to think about it because it is something we don’t tend to like to think about,” said John C. “Jack” Ehrich, attorney at Ehrich Law Office. “But if you have either a will or a trust, what you are really allowing your family to do is grieve properly when something does happen because all of these things have already been taken care of.”
Another reason, Ehrich said, is time and money.
“A lot of people think it is going to cost them an arm and a leg, which really is not the case,” Ehrich said. “To do an estate plan through us for a husband and wife is less than a lot of people’s car insurance. And time also, a lot of people say, ‘We meant to get to it, but life just kind of got in the way’ and other things just took preference.”
However, there is never a bad time to write a will. While they are predominantly associated with older individuals, one is never too young to write a will – assuming he or she has assets to give away.
“We have had people come in as young as 22 – married couples – to do wills,” Ehrich said. “And we have had people come in at 65 who have never done a will before. There is never really a set age that you have to do it or anything, but it really is a good way to handle things while you are still alive and you are still able to make the decisions.”
If someone doesn’t have a will, assets will go according to the laws of intestacy – meaning they will be given to the next of kin in line. This could be a spouse, children or siblings, depending on who is still around. However, this has a downside for some.
“Courts don’t always know family dynamics,” Ehrich said. “A person might not have had contact with one or more of their children for a number of years, and didn’t necessarily want to leave anything to that child; or same thing with a brother or sister. But the courts don’t know that even though those are the people who are going to be designated heirs if you don’t have a will.”
Wills can be amended as often as one likes. If major life events have happened – new child, divorce or marriage – people are going to want to change a few things. The process described by Ehrich is fairly easy.
“It’s just sitting down with the people, asking them questions to get a sense of what their assets are so we know what vehicle will be best for them, whether it’s a will or trust,” Erich said. “Then we just talk to them about their family dynamics and who they would want to handle their estate and how they would want their assets to be divided amongst children, other family members or even charity sometimes. We just draft it according to how the conversation goes and then just go from there.”
When choosing between a will and a trust, there are two things to be aware of:
“A will has to go through probate in order to change title on the assets,” Erich said. “With a trust, you already named how the assets will be retitled, so it does not have to go through probate. And usually because of that, wills cost a little less up front, and a little more on the back end.
“Trusts a little more up front, and a little less on the back end. So, there is more involved with doing a trust from the get-go, but there is not quite as much after the person actually dies that you have to do with the trust, as opposed to the will where you have to go through the probate courts in order to transfer the assets.”