A recent survey showed that a surprisingly high 72% of Americans do not have an up-to-date will.
Via an ABNewsWire article which summarized the results: “A Google Consumer survey by USLegalWills.com suggests that previous surveys may have under-reported the number of Americans without a Will, by not including those who have a Will that is out-of-date.”
This is mostly a problem, though perhaps not quite the crisis that the worrisome tone of the headlines may indicate.
Not surprisingly, the older that folks are, the more likely they are to have a will, though also the more likely that the will is not up-to-date (meaning that the will no longer reflects the person’s needs or wishes — it may predate the birth of a child or grandchild, or indicate an ex-spouse or fail to account for a child having become an adult in the meanwhile).
The survey showed a positive relationship between age and the probability of having a Will:
• 18-24: 85% do not have a Will, 10% have an out-of-date Will, and 5% have an up-to-date Will.
• 23-35: 80% do not have a Will, 6% have an out-of-date Will, and 14% have an up-to-date Will.
• 35-44: 67% do not have a Will, 8% have an out-of-date Will, and 25% have an up-to-date Will.
• 45-54: 53% do not have a Will, 11% have an out-of-date Will, and 36% have an up-to-date Will.
• 55-64: 52% do not have a Will, 8% have an out-of-date Will, and 40% have an up-to-date Will.
• 65+: 35% do not have a Will, 15% have an out-of-date Will, and 50% have an up-to-date Will.
While these numbers may be troublesome, it’s worth spending a little time knowing just what the Will is for and does, and what it doesn’t do and whether this is as big a problem as suggested.
We’ll link to one of our most popular articles on the Meyers Wealth Management blog which discusses a whole variety of estate planning documents in more detail.
However, in brief, here are a few things to keep in mind:
1. For most people, the single most important thing your Will does is say not who gets your stuff, but rather, who gets your kids if something happens to you.
2. Your Will does not control all your assets. Your retirement accounts, life insurance policies, etc — generally all have specified beneficiaries which control who gets what.
3. In the absence of a Will, every state has default people to whom your stuff will go. This is controlled by “intestate succession rules” and in most cases, it means assets go to spouses, registered domestic partners, blood relatives (especially children, including legally adopted ones), and if there are no surviving spouses or children, other family members may be in line (i.e., siblings, parents, etc). This is state-by-state. Nolo Press maintains some very helpful details on individual state rules here: http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/intestate-succession
4. There are other documents which may well be more important for many people such as durable powers of attorney (generally in case you don’t die but do become incapacitated – these documents indicate who may manage such things as healthcare decisions and financial matters). These may be especially important for exactly the people who the survey says are least likely to have a will.
At Meyers Wealth Management, while we are not attorneys nor do we draw up any of these legal documents — we do ask every client who comes in whether they have these things in place. These are incredibly important issues to address and they are also very easy to either overlook or procrastinate. We also urge everyone to review all these documents regularly – outdated documents may well be even worse than no documents.
And if you remember nothing else, remember this — it’s not just about your stuff.
Lastly, we strongly urge all to read our article “Where There’s A Will, There’s A Plan – Estate Planning For Everyone” – https://meyersmoney.wordpress.com/2015/04/27/where-theres-a-will-theres-a-plan-estate-planning/