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scary jack-o-lantern

It’s the season for everything pumpkin, Hocus Pocus reruns, and “accidentally” eating all the trick-or-treat candy before the actual trick-or-treaters arrive. It’s the time when I’m reminded that the scariest notion of all is not Dracula, ghosts, or even the overpriced costumes, but rather the downright terrifying reality that nearly every six out of 10 Americans do not have estate planning documents in place. Despite the numerous benefits, advantages, and financial savings that comes with a proper estate plan, it’s all too common to push the process off to the equivalent of the dusty, cobwebby attic of your to-do list. Here are five scary excuses I’ve heard as to why people procrastinate creating an estate plan:

I’ll be dead, so I won’t be around to care.

Downright hair-raising!

A friend’s mother told them this when my friend brought up estate planning. The mother has a point…I guess. Yes, after she dies she won’t be able to “care” about where her assets go. However, most of us would like to have a set plan of where our hard-earned money and personal property will go and to whom. Why? Because we care while we’re living and like to think we’re taking care of the ones we love even after we’re gone. So, why wouldn’t she (even as an act of love) take a simple measure to save her loved ones money (and time) instead of dealing with the sluggish probate process that would occur if she were to die intestate (without a will)?

 

graveyard with gravestones

I don’t own enough assets to need an estate plan.

I hear this one all the time and it’s terrifying to think someone would sacrifice their right to pass along their estate (as small or as big as it may be) as they choose. The fact is that having a small bank account, minor children, owning a home (of any size), or even having a pet is enough to necessitate estate planning…if even just to be prepared. Of course the larger and more complex the estate, the more tools and documents may be needed, but that’s why you need to have an experienced estate planer to help determine the tools you need.

I don’t have time right now to do estate planning.

Unnerving and chilling. Sure, estate planning doesn’t sound like the most fun thing to deal with on top of everything else you have going on in your life. But, the time it takes to create an estate plan will be significantly less than the time it will cost your family if your estate goes through probate. Additionally, most (good) estate planning attorneys will work around YOUR schedule. They are willing to make house calls and conduct conversations essential to crafting the estate plan over the phone or email—whatever works best for YOU.

timer with sand in it

It’s too expensive to make an estate plan. 

Eerily wrong. It will almost certainly be more expensive for your family and loved ones if you die intestate (without a will). It will not only cost them monetarily, but also emotionally as the process can be shockingly slow, tedious, and can create unnecessary conflict. Part of living is loving, so show your family, friends, and favorite charities the love by taking the time to craft an estate plan.

I don’t even know where to start, so I’m not going to.

Alarmingly unnerving. Getting started on your estate plan is actually incredibly easy. Use my free (without obligation) Estate Plan Questionnaire. It’s an excellent tool for organizing all the essential information you (and your spouse, if applicable) and your estate planner need to have on hand in order to reach your estate planning goals.


Do any of these sound like you? Fear is for werewolves and zombies, not estate planning. Break the procrastination cycle and contact me via email or phone to discuss your situation.

Heirs at law on beach

Before I explain the concept of “heirs at law,” you might be thinking, why even bring this up? Of what relevance is this “Ye Olde Sounding Phraise” in today’s modern world?

It’s important for me to share the concept of “heirs at law” with you, dear GoFisch blog Reader, for three reasons.

  1. It helps explain why I, and other estate planners, ask so many darn questions. We need lots of info.
  2. The concept of “heirs at law” shows that you need to be open and honest and forthcoming with me, or any estate planner. Without complete transparency and truth, the estate plan runs the risk of being useless (the idea of “garbage in, garbage out” applies here).
  3. “Heirs at law” is yet another reason that a DIY will, or using an online service to produce your will, is just a terrible idea. You need an estate plan crafted by a trusted professional, unique to your special needs. Every family is different, so there can be no “one-size-fits-all” estate plan, and there are many moving parts to a comprehensive estate plan.

With that established, what does the term “heirs at law” actually mean?

girl drawing heart in sand

Heirs at law are those folks who would inherit your property in the event you died without a will, which is called intestacy1. It is critically important to determine who the heirs at law are, even for people not subject to the laws of intestacy (i.e., folks who have a will) for two big reasons.

  1. Heirs at law must be notified of the probate process.
  2. Heirs at law are allowed to challenge the Will in probate court.

As I already stated, you must provide all the information your estate planner requests. As a practical matter, the extent of information you’ll need to provide your estate planner regarding heirs at law depends of the nature of your family and relatives. For instance, in the case of two people, married only to each other, with children only from that one marriage—then the spouse and children (and perhaps grandchildren) will be the obvious heirs at law.

In another example, a family could also constitute a remarriage with each spouse having children from previous relationships. In this case, the stepchildren would need to be adopted by the applicable stepparent to be considered an heir at law.

In other situations, the client relatives may be much more distant, requiring more fact investigation. For example, take the case of a client who is unmarried and without children. In such a situation, the estate planner will need to pay close attention to identifying other relatives.

Family walking down road hand-in-hand

Of course, you can bequeath your estate to whomever you choose. You don’t have to give anything to any of your obvious or non-obvious heirs at law or any other relative for that matter. (In colloquial terms we could call this “stiffing your relatives.”)

This point reiterates why the estate planner should know and have updated contact information of who are the heirs at law. Again, it’s required that heirs at law be notified of probate process and these heirs (unlike a non-relative work colleague or neighbor) also have the legal standing to contest the will in court.

Another reason the estate planner must have knowledge of the heirs at law is to ward off fraudulent claims, if need be. This reason is particularly important if the heirs at law are distant relatives. (An unfortunate real world example of this involves Prince and the complicated intestate process following the singer’s passing without an estate plan.)

Bottom line: heirs at law are important when it comes to the distribution of your estate (with or without a Will). Of course, dying intestate is NOT optimal and you DO need a Will for a number of important reasons. I’d love to discuss the topic over the phone (515-371-6077) or via email. Don’t hesitate to contact me at any time!


[1] Bonus word! If an Iowan dies without a will, they die “intestate” and the laws of “intestate” succession are used to determine who will inherit the estate.