It was Wednesday, September 21st. I was in California for FinCon, a financial bloggers conference, and my book had just launched The Debt Slaying Challenge: Eliminating debt fast. A book that I had been working on for the past three months was finally released to the world. It was a moment that should’ve been filled with joy, yet all I could feel was sadness. There I was, sitting in a coffee shop with tears swelling in my eyes because my father wasn’t there to share the moment with me.
When my father passed away of cancer just two months prior, he didn’t have a will or an estate plan. It was something that never came up in conversation, and honestly it’s a hard topic to bring up. However looking back, now I see the importance of being prepared and making sure your finances are in order for every situation, even the ones we don’t want to think about.
He was excited about my book, probably more than I was. I know he would be proud, my dad was always sharing how proud of me he was to anyone who would listen, even to the cashier at the grocery store. “This is my daughter and she graduated from college” he would say smiling.
As I sat there fighting back the tears, in front of me there was a woman and man having a conversation I happened to overhear that she worked at a law firm doing estate planning. A light bulb went off and I knew had to talk to this woman and ask if she could help me with a post.
Meet Montez Joy Harrison. She’s a third year law student at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, California, who will be taking the Bar Exam next year. Montez works for Woodward Law, a firm that specializes in the formation of Wills and Trusts. She was nice enough to answer my questions below. As a bonus the Founder and CEO, has offered a FREE consultation to anyone who mentions this article! Simply call Caron at (858) 598-5552 or email her at email@example.com.
Why do you think the percentage of Americans without a will is so high? I read a study on info.legalzoom.com that said The importance of having a will. “Approximately 55 percent of American adults do not have a will or other estate plan in place, according to LexisNexis. Among minorities, the numbers are higher than in the general population: 68 percent of black adults and 74 percent of Hispanic adults do not have one.”
Great question and those are pretty big numbers but death is just not something people want to talk about. Most Americans can barely remember to pay next months’ cable bill, so they have it on automatic withdrawal. Taking inventory on all your assets, getting items appraised and planning to distribute them to those who will appreciate and take care of your assets is a difficult task! And of course, none of us plan on dying anytime soon so we say to ourselves “there’s always next year.”
Another big reason is that people think “My assets aren’t worth enough to worry about it” or “My assets will just go to my family even if I don’t have a will.” In the state of California, if the total of what you own, including a house, is $50,000 or more, you must go through the probate process. And while it is sometimes true that your assets would go where you would want them to anyway, if you do not have a proper estate plan, it has to first go through probate. This means that it could take years for them to get the final distribution, and there will be less of it because of lawyer’s and court fees.
What age should a person decide to get a will?
I think people should decide to get a will once they have assets they want to protect or their estate is worth more than $50,000. For example, if you turn 18 and you have a valuable baseball card collection that you want to leave to your brother, you will need a will. Or if you’re 30 and bought a car that your cousin really admires and you know she will take care of it if you pass, you will need a will. Another indicator of needing a will is an important life event; like having a child, getting married or purchasing a home.
How should one go about setting up a will?
As cliché as it might sound, consult a lawyer. Some will give you a free consultation, which is usually a 30-60 minute conversation about your assets. The last thing you want is to create a will and the court deem it invalid because you were unaware of the California Probate Code.
If someone doesn’t have a will where does their assets go?
So many people die intestate, which is a default estate plan for people who don’t have a valid will. Including Prince! He had no will, so there are specific rules on how the decedents assets get disbursed. Generally, the court will look at the decedent’s heir-at-law. (1) whether you have a surviving spouse, (2) lineal descendants that came after you; children, grandchildren, etc., (3) your parents, (4) your parents issue; your siblings, nephews, nieces, etc., (5) your grandparents, (6) your grandparents issue; your uncles, aunts, first cousins, etc.
And this goes on until they find a living relative. If no living relative can be located, your assets would escheat to the state. And don’t forget that the estate must pay expenses first which include creditors, taxes, executor fees, legal fees, court costs.
What do you think the #1 mistake people make when it comes to creating a will?
The biggest mistake is not considering the other estate planning documents that could be creating simultaneously. A living trust, powers of attorney, health care directives, and other documents all work together to protect you, your assets, and your loved ones in the event of your death or incapacity.
Again A huge thank you to Montez, Woodward Law, and Caron Woodward for sharing their knowledge with us today on Estate planning. I know no one wants to think about it, however death is apart of life. Ms Caron has so kindly offered a FREE consultation to anyone who mentions this article! Simply call Caron at (858) 598-5552 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t put off planning your estate any longer.
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Photography: Melysa Latham
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