Whether you are married or single, it is incredibly important to have a plan in place for the possibility that you become incompetent, or when you die. Yes, we all die. There’s no secret in that fact of life. We don’t know when or how, but we all know our time on this earth will end.
Planning for that eventuality does not mean it will happen sooner. There are some people hesitant to even talk about their own death because they fear talking about it puts it in the universe such that it will happen sooner. Newsflash: the universe already knows you are going to die. There’s no surprise there. You can’t cheat death, but you can plan for it.
Some people put off doing a Will by saying, “I’ll get to it one day”. They know it needs to be done, but they simply don’t want to do it or find excuses to not do it. That “one day” may be too late.
My Spouse Gets Everything, Right?
There are things that pass automatically – things that list a death beneficiary such as retirement and financial accounts. A house with a “right of survivorship” or “to the survivor of them” provision written in the deed also passes automatically to whoever the other owner of the house is. However, if you have a checking account in your name only, without a payable and/or transferrable on death beneficiary, it doesn’t pass to anyone – even a spouse – automatically.
Husband (“H”) has a checking account at Redstone Federal Credit Union. Wife’s (“W”) name is not on the account. H has not designated anyone as a payable or transferable on death beneficiary. That account has been the source for paying mortgage, car note, and other monthly bills, including source of grocery money. H dies. Bank freezes the account as of the date of H’s death. W has no access to funds. Bank does not allow her access to funds even though she’s the spouse. W, who is shocked and grieving, has to open an intestate estate and get letters of Administration before the bank will allow her access to the funds. This could take weeks because W can’t open an Estate until she has the death certificate.
Wife (“W”) and Husband (“H”) live at 123 Madison Street, Huntsville. H owned the house prior to marrying W. W & H have been married 10 years and planned to add W’s name to the deed of the house, but never got around to it. H has 2 children from previous marriage. H dies unexpectedly without a Will. Another one of those things H & W had planned to get to “one day”, but never did. Under Alabama law, that house belongs 50% to W and 50% to H’s 2 children. Maybe H’s 2 children will be nice, maybe they won’t.
Don’t Leave a Mess
When you die without a Last Will & Testament, your spouse, children or someone else will have to file to open an Intestate Estate. Whoever files will ask for “Letters of Administration” and be the Administrator or “Personal Representative”. The Personal Representative will have to inventory your stuff and file it with the Probate Court, identifying what you have and its value – including your financial accounts. Whoever is the Administrator of the Estate must pay for a security bond – basically insurance – that is equal to the value of your personal property to ensure the Administrator doesn’t squander the money. The Personal Representative can’t sale your house or other property without court approval. It could take a few weeks or months for them to get access to your checking account, so your family will be paying any necessary expenses and bills out of their own pockets until then.
You, a man or woman on a mission, a man or woman who dared to follow his or her dreams and passions in life, would never leave your family to spend hours upon hours sorting through your stuff and having to ask for a judge’s permission to dispose of it. Your failure to make plans that would make life exponentially easier for your loved ones after your death is not congruent with who you are today. You’ve taken great care of your family and your business through the years, why would you leave your legacy – your stuff – in such chaos?
Preserve Your Legacy
What kind of legacy does this leave? Failing to do an estate plan not only effects what happens to your stuff but reflects poorly on your legacy – your story – to your children. A one or two hour meeting with an estate planning attorney can inform you of the right plan to make and set you on a path to leaving your legacy – your stuff – as you want, and reducing the stress upon your loved ones.
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