Sunday, January 20, 2008

Save money by writing a love letter to your family

How much do you love your family? Most people would say enough that they would probably die for them. So what happens if you do die - are you ready for it now? Have you prepared for it properly. In talking with people, I would say 9 out of 10 have not (and the 10th one is probably lying) prepared for it, by writing the ultimate love letter for their family...a will.

Yeah, I said it, a will. I think most people do not do it, or want to think about, because somehow they think it will jinx them into an early death. I know that's kind of how I felt. "I'm young", "I'm not gonna die anytime soon", "I don't need a will"..."heck, I don't have anything to leave anyone anyway" - all are common responses I get when talking to people about wills.

I can tell you stories for hours, of people whose lives were torn apart by fighting with family members over something as simple as who gets a particular spoon set. Do you really know who holds what type of emotional attachment, to something you would never think would cause problems? People will fight over the apparently (to you) silliest things, which can leave lasting wounds to family relationships...all while dealing with the loss of a loved one.

Another aspect, is children. Not just what is left to them, but who they are left with. The chances of both parents being killed a the same time are relatively small, but the risk is still there. Actually, about three weeks ago, two streets down from my home, a couple was killed, and their 20 month old daughter seriously injured, when a suspended driver crashed into them (the other driver died as well). The parents were just returning from the hospital, where they had their infant treated for a fever. I would be pretty certain in saying, they most likely did not have a will in place, saying what to do with their daughter and other children, should they both die. It's been reported that the grandparents on both sides want custody, and now the state gets to decide who gets the kids, if the kids stay together, or if they even get to go with a relative at all. What if the state ends up awarding custody to a relative you would never want your child(ren) to be raised by? Sorry, you only had a chance to take care of that while you were alive.

What about remarriage? With so many mixed families, who gets what? Does dad's estate go to his biological children, or to his wife? Speaking of wife, is it the current one, or the ex? Don't laugh, a personal friend of mine broke down telling me about her husband, who died in California, on business. His life insurance and estate went to his first wife. My friend fought it in court, and lost. She now has over $20,000 in legal bills as well. What about unmarried partners? How will you know your final wishes are carried out, if you don't have a will?

There are many ways to get one. First, you can hire an attorney, and pay for it. Actually, you can pay a lot for it. Local attorneys in my area charge a flat $800-$1500 fee for a basic will, others charge hourly. A bit steep if you ask me, and that doesn't include services for more intricate planning like trusts and the like.

You can subscribe to a legal service. These charge monthly or yearly membership fees, but include basic legal services like phone consultations, letters written on your behalf, and will preparation. My wife and I went this route (I'll cover the service itself in another post), for other reasons, besides the will. We each got a will, and a living medical directive (gives us each the power to make decisions for the other should we be unable to make those decisions for ourselves...Terry Schiavo, anyone?), and were able to fill out a short survey on what we wanted our will to do. When we had questions, we called and spoke to an attorney who specialized in wills and estate planning, and had our questions answered. We sent in the survey, and received our wills in a week or two. Only thing we had to do was have them notarized. We also get them updated and reviewed each year at no real cost (about $20)

The lowest cost option, is to do it yourself. There are quite a few "do-it-yourself" will kits out there, and I am sure most of them are pretty good. Next time you are in the store and see one though, read the small print. Every one that I have looked at has some disclaimer about the need to still consult an attorney. Remember my friend whose husband died of a heart attack? After marrying my friend, he decided to do one of those "do-it-yourself" will kits. He had the foresight to get it done, and for that I commend him...he wanted to take care of his family. Something happened friend told me that when he finished the will, and had it executed, he only had two witnesses sign it...the state in which he was residing required three witnesses...something the "do-it-yourself" kit forgot to mention, or something he overlooked. When he passed away, because that newer will was not executed properly, the one he had with his first wife was the one still in effect. That is how the ex-wife inherited all of his estate. That is why it is important to consult with an make sure little things like this, do not become big things down the road.

In addition, without a will (and often even with one), an estate will often have to go through probate. This is beyond the scope of this post, and I am sure you can imagine, it is not cheap. A will can protect against this, or at the very least, help minimize the costs associated with probate.

So, now I'll ask much do you love your family?

Enough to write them a love letter?


Ben said...

I know which Legal Service you are speaking of and I use them too.
I have actually had a current will done up ever since I was 18. This mostly do to the fact I was in the army and it is a requirement before you go on an over seas tour.
It is not something people want to think about but it does really give you peace of mind once you have it done up.

Nicole said...

Been there three times now with my Mom.
Gladly it's just the two of us left, no closer relatives.
But all three times we said that we should a) write something and b) write what shall happen with us when we are in a coma but clinically dead.
Needless to say, we didn't.
I know my Dad did write a will down when he still could, but he lived in a home (he was in a wheelchair) and the will and a couple of other things dear to me and Mom were gone after he died.
Oh well, at least Mom and I never fought over anything.
But I know what you mean, people can get pretty stupid and one always should be prepared, especially when kids are involved.
Good reminder!

Mommie said...

Remind me not to read stuff about this subject before I go to bed...I'll have nightmares now. We, like most people, aren't prepared for that. I always said we're to young...

Um, we're not young anymore, so this post will keep me up...


Steve said...


thanks for commenting. Besides the will, the legal service has saved us thousands of dollars...I'll be covering that in a future post for those not familiar with it. And you are right on, when you say most people don't want to think about it, but it does give you immense peace of mind once it's done and in place.

Steve said...


Sorry to hear about having to deal with this several times. I had debated whether to post about it or not, as I was concerned some would think it morbid, but I've seen so many people go through so much unneeded pain, that could have been avoided if a will had been in place.

Steve said...

Mommie, sorry to keep you up...I know it's not the most pleasant topic to talk about, but I believe it is one of the most important, ESPECIALLY with children. As a father of a 4 month old, I only want the best for him, and I am comfortable knowing that he will be taken care of according to our wishes, if something were to happen to my wife and I at the same time. Please, do not put it off, if you haven't done it yet.