Recently, I heard an estate planning story that I wish more people had heard and understood. It is the story of a young lady whose husband died. The couple had been married about five years, and the husband had a child from a previous marriage. While the wife had been urging her husband to help get their estate planning in order for several years, he told her not to worry and that she would get everything when he died because they were married. Unfortunately, this is not the case under Texas law if you die without a will (known as dying “intestate”). As a result, half of the couple’s community property (including their home) that was owned by the husband now belongs to his daughter, which has created some serious problems in administering and settling the husband’s estate. To complicate the matter further, the daughter is a minor, meaning that extra steps have to be taken in court, increasing the cost and time involved in administering the estate.
So, why was the husband so reluctant to do any estate planning? A recent article highlights some potential reasons, such as:
They don’t have the time. We’re all busy, and getting our estates in order before we die is something that usually doesn’t take priority. However, as the above example illustrates, failing to do any estate planning can create issues that take more time to resolve than simply doing the estate planning in the first place.
They don’t want to think about dying. Nobody likes to think about dying, but it is a reality that we are all forced to deal with. But estate planning isn’t just about you. By planning for your passing while you are alive and healthy, you can make it easier for your loved ones to carry out your wishes, and it puts in place a mechanism to do so with the least amount of time and expense possible. Also, estate planning isn’t just about death. For instance, do you know who will pay your bills if you are in an accident and are incapacitated for an extended period of time? Also, if you have minor children, who will take care of them during a period of incapacity? A good estate plan will answer these questions.
They don’t understand it. Many people are under the impression that estate planning always has to be complicated, and they don’t want to take the time to learn all the intricate details involved in estate planning. In reality, the estate planning process in Texas is often relatively simple. Unless you have a substantial amount of wealth or certain types of assets that require special planning, an estate plan can be very simple to implement. Although the documents themselves can be difficult to read and understand to a layperson, a good estate planning attorney will be able to walk you through your documents and explain any provisions you don’t fully understand.
I don’t have a big estate. Regardless of the amount of assets you have, something has to be done to transfer those assets to new owners after you die. The Texas probate process provides for the administration of your probate estate, and having a will in place allows you to control who will receive your assets and how your estate will be administered. You also need to provide for your incapacity and name guardians for any minor children, which is not dependent on the size of your estate.
While most people will acknowledge that estate planning is something they need to get done, it usually sits unchecked on a to-do list. As the above story indicates, failing to get your estate planning checked off of this list can cost you more than time and money; it can cost your loved ones an incredible amount of stress and grief. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my family to have to deal with this kind of mess after I’m gone, especially when it is so easy to take steps to prevent it while I’m still alive.
See Huffington Post (February 27, 2015) “Why We Avoid Estate Planning”