If it is So Important, Why Doesn’t Everyone Make a Will?

Question markNo one likes to plan for his or her death, but it’ll happen to all of us, says The Reading Eagle Business Weekly in the article “Make a will, plan for distribution of assets.”

You can pass your wealth to anyone you want, but state and/or federal taxes may be due on these transfers. The rules are also complex, and if you die without a will, the state laws of intestacy may say who gets your wealth.

Most folks make the mistake of signing their wills and life insurance policies, then putting them in files and forgetting about them. These documents and your intentions will become out-of-date. It’s not uncommon for a decedent to have been divorced for five years when they die, but the ex-spouse still inherits all of his or her assets. Why? Because the ex’s name is still in the will or is listed as the beneficiary of the life insurance policy. This happens more frequently than you might think.


Probate versus non-probate assets is one of the most misunderstood concepts in estate planning. Probate is the process that deals with proving a will's validity by filing it in court. The will names an executor who is responsible for fulfilling its terms. The estate assets are identified and valued, then given to the individuals named in the will.

There are also non-probate assets that are transferred by operation of law. They specifically include accounts with beneficiary designations like IRAs, 401(k)s, pensions, retirement accounts, life insurance, annuities and transfer-on-death accounts. These non-probate assets supersede what’s written in the will. The beneficiary designations control them.

Do you have a will? When was the last time you reviewed it?

You should hire an experienced estate planning attorney to help structure an estate plan for both your will and beneficiary designations to allow for the efficient transfer of your assets.

Reference: Reading (PA) Eagle Business Weekly (January 17, 2017) “Make a will, plan for distribution of assets.”


Plug Your Nose and Draft a Will!

Old couple with computerAs icky as it can be to think about your own death, estate planning attorneys will tell you that it’s imperative to protect your family and your assets. The Street’s recent article, “Estate Planning Needs to Be on Your Retirement To-Do List,” reminds us that for the most part, everyone needs a will.

Everyone needs to do a review of investments and be certain the beneficiaries on life insurance, IRAs and 401(k) are updated, in addition to transfer on death (TOD) accounts, powers of attorney, and a health care proxy.

Many haven't done estate planning because they’re too busy. Plus, talking about death is not a lot of fun for most of us.

Many folks start to consider their estate planning after experiencing the probate process for themselves with a loved one who has passed away. A parent’s death and going through the process of probating an estate may be a real struggle if there’s no estate plan in place. They don't want to leave the same mess for their children.

Remember, documents also need to be updated. This includes health care proxies, powers of attorney and beneficiary designations.

Estate planning is the smartest way to take care of your family and loved ones. Some will need trusts to help accommodate their children and to ensure they get through college.

Different types of estate planning are needed in different stages of life, as well as different stages of wealth building. More advanced planning should come in the later stages of life when wealth has accumulated.

People generally don't think about estate planning before they get into their 50s and 60s. It’s just how folks think. Younger people are concentrating on making money and their careers.

Planning sooner is always better. And the earlier, the better. Work with an experienced estate planning attorney.

Reference: The Street (Sept. 24, 2016) “Estate Planning Needs to Be on Your Retirement To-Do List”


Frequent Flier Miles and Your Estate

Gettyimages-476704311If you are a member of an airline rewards program, take a look at the fine print of the program's terms and conditions. You will most likely find language to the effect that any accumulated points are not transferrable on death. However, that might not actually be true.

Airlines are eager to sign customers up to rewards programs. For frequent travelers these are often great deals, as they can often get free or reduced cost airfare, especially if they fly on the same airline repeatedly. There is a real monetary value for the account holders.

Nevertheless, not everyone uses his or her accumulated point balance before passing away. Since the accumulated points do have a real value, the question then becomes whether or not they are part of a decedent's estate.

The answer to that turns out to be no, unless an airline decides to make an exception.

Time recently reported on this issue in an article titled "What Happens to Your Airline Miles When You Die?"

It turns out that while most rewards programs have an official written policy that points are not transferrable on death, in reality most airlines will make exceptions to that policy on a case-by-case basis.

If the points are bequeathed to someone, most airlines are willing to transfer the points upon receiving proof of death and proof that the person asking is the appropriate beneficiary.

This practice is discretionary, however, and the real key to getting the rewards transferred appears to be to ask nicely.

Airline employees are not required to transfer the points, but if the beneficiary is nice they normally will.

For more information about estate planning, please visit my estate planning website.

Reference: Time (July 31, 2015) "What Happens to Your Airline Miles When You Die?"

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