Don't Have a Will? Get one!

- People often joke, 'Nobody gets out of this life alive'. Of course, death is inevitable, but how it will be handled and how your finances will be managed after you go is not inevitable. It doesn't matter how much money you have in the bank, a will is a necessity.

Full disclosure: I don't have a will. I talked to a family law attorney about my own error in judgment.

"You are in the majority of people not having a will and you need a will," said Harmon Caldwell of Caldwell, Propst and DeLoach.

Dunwoody family law attorney Harmon Caldwell told the Fox 5 I-Team that no matter your tax bracket, even if you're 25 and single, you need a will. Don't think you really own anything of value? Well, you'd be surprised.

"A family making $60,000 or $70,000 a year can wind up with a home, worth $100,000, $150,000, maybe $250,000. Several automobiles, retirement account, some other assets that bring that asset base right on up there," he said.

Here's what estate planning does for you. It offers an advanced medical directive. This makes clear the medical care that you want if you can't make the decision yourself. An example is that you are involved in a terrible accident and you are on life support. Put in writing how you want that situation handled. Don't make your family - who may disagree on how to handle end-of-life decisions - manage this.

Family estate planning means appointing a power of attorney - someone who will manage your finances if you can't. This is helpful when a family member has dementia and can no longer pay his own bills.

Then there are the details that need to be managed after you die. The will lays out who gets your assets - your car, your house, your savings - and the appointment of an executor who is someone who sees to it your wishes are followed after your death.  

Now again, I don't have a will (yet), but I thought, as you might, things would be simple. In the event of my death, my husband would get everything - the house, the savings and care for our daughter. But here are the complications. Mr. Caldwell says that my husband will still have to hire an attorney to petition the court to manage our estate all while he's mourning.

"You're going to have to have a hearing, jump through some hoops, ultimately, he would probably be appointed administrator, then administer the estate as he saw best, not as you had wanted."

This is time-consuming and expensive.

OK, you're young and single. You need a will, too. Let's say you don't really own anything. You're only 25 years old. You're in a first job. You rent. Well, here's a worst-case scenario: You've been hit and killed by a drunk driver, but your estate wins a settlement. Who gets it? By law, it's divided up between your parents and your siblings equally. Even that estranged brother you haven't seen in 10 years gets his share, too.

Estate planning attorney Harmon Caldwell says you can get a basic will for as little as $200. You can get one cheaper online, but remember to be mindful of the details.  Mr. Caldwell says a lawyer recently came to his office who had done his own will online only to find out that he had forgotten to sign it. It was not valid.


 




 

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