I have seen various statistics over the years regarding the number of adult Americans without even a simple will. The American Bar Association reports the percentage at around 55 percent, Rocket Lawyer about the same, and Lawyers.com is a bit less optimistic at 70 percent.
What about you?
If you die without a will (or other estate planning by design), then statistics will matter little to your loved ones ... especially if some of your loved ones are little ones.
According to a recent article in The Denver Post, titled “How estate plans protect family assets far better than a will,” no estate plan = no guarantee regarding who will inherit your assets.
But what about any minor children (under age 18 in most states)?
"If you don't have an estate plan, you have a 'plan' written by the state," notes the original article.
Consequently, by default you are relying on the state to decide what happens with your children and your hard-earned assets.
It means your family will be required to go through the courts, and probate may take months or even years, according to the American Bar Association.
Most states have waiting periods for creditors to respond and during that time the probate estate cannot be be distributed.
However, in my experience, the biggest impediment to a successfully administered estate is a total lack of information left behind by the decedent.
Problem: When someone dies, so does all of the information concerning the whereabouts of their important paperwork (legal and otherwise) and the details of their assets.
Depending on the state, probate can be expensive.
In some states it can cost between 5 to 7 percent of your estate.
Missouri is a known offender in terms of probate fees, by default applying "minimum percentage" fees set by statute and based on the value of the assets passing through probate.
Kansas, on the other hand, follows a "reasonable fee" approach based on the actual work done and the person doing the work. For example, an attorney making photocopies is limited to what he or she would pay hourly "after school" clerical help, not the attorney's hourly rate.
Solve: Whether my clients are in Kansas or in Missouri, I cap the attorney and personal representative fees at the "lesser" of a minimum percentage fee or a reasonable fee.
I have found this approach especially helpful since clients in the metropolitan Kansas City area seem to jump back and forth over state line road for a variety of reasons.
What about doing your own will and other estate planning legal documents?
According to the original article, completing an estate plan on the web or through a lawyer who charges only a few hundred dollars to set up a basic will often leaves too much to interpretation.
Instead, the article counsels you to become educated on how assets are titled and how beneficiaries are designated—the two most critical and least understood concepts in estate planning.
There is one often overlooked benefit to planning your estate with an experienced estate planning attorney versus a do-it-yourself online form.
What is it?
Your attorney will likely help you update your plans as laws change and keep in touch with you throughout your life.
[At your initial consultation, be sure to ask him or her how they will help you "maintain" your estate plan once inked.]
In contrast, your online will is less likely to tell you if you need a change or modification.
We recommend reviewing your own estate plan at least every two years and update it whenever there is a major life event.
Think deaths, births, marriages, or divorces.
As you live your life, make sure your estate plan reflects the needs and wants of your family.
So, how do you find an "experienced" estate planning attorney?
First, ask around. Friends, family and other professional advisors are trustworthy sources.
Second, conduct an "organic" search on "Google" for "estate planning" near you (e.g., "estate planning Overland Park KS").
Third, either way, verify! Check out the education, experience, ratings and client reviews of any attorney before you contact him or her.
In fact, I use both of these services to thoroughly vett attorneys before referring members of our "client" family for legal help.
Remember: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” When making your financial, tax and estate plans, do not go it alone. Be sure to engage competent professional counsel.
For more information about estate planning in Overland Park, KS (and throughout the rest of Kansas and Missouri) and to download free tools to help you organize your estate, visit my estate planning website.
Reference: The Denver Post (June 20, 2015) “How estate plans protect family assets far better than a will”