Making a Will: Waste of time, or do you need one?
Addressing the common issue of “intestate”
Making a Will, the great catch-22.
On one side of things, everybody knows it’s something they probably “should” do.
Usually not exactly sure “why”, but they know it’s a normal course of life, so it’s likely crossed their mind.
Maybe they looked into it, maybe they just thought about it, the degree doesn’t matter…
But at the end of the day, we all know “deep down” it’s something we should consider doing soon.
Whether it’s saving our family from unnecessary stress, or just “doing the right thing”, there’s a lot of reasons why people complete their Will…
But oddly enough, they’re the minority as well.
According to recent studies, over 50% of both Canadians and Americans are “intestate” - meaning they passed away without having a Will in place.
In some cases it’s a big issue, in other cases, it’s not that big of a deal.
Some situations are straightforward, others are a little more complex, but at the end of the day it all comes down to this:
If you’re not familiar with this term, probate is essentially the process where courts come in and take over your Estate.
Maybe that’s not the best way to say it either, but regardless of how you look at it, that’s what happens here.
There’s always a process that has to happen, and the “severity” of this stage will depend on two primary things:
- How many of your assets reach probate, and
- If there’s a Will in place
For the first one, how many of your assets reach probate, we’ll be covering that next…
So I’ll save it for then, but I wanted to take a minute and talk about the second issue for now.
This seems to be a part everybody is confused about, thinking it’ll be the same process no matter what (i.e. Will or no Will) - usually doesn’t happen that way.
Instead, when an “intestate” (i.e. Will-less Estate) comes into the courtroom - expensive attorney fees (and default options) take over.
Since there’s no Executor to speak with right away, the court has to begin doing their own research, and they’re not going to do this for free.
In most jurisdictions they’ll have an Attorney come in to start, fees pile up quick.
Seeing how the typical Attorney is at least $200/hr, and how most of them take way more than 5 hours, at a bare minimum - this “will-less” Estate costs your family $1,000.
That’s bad enough as-is, but we haven’t even gotten into the “other costs” yet.
- Family Feuds
- Default options not following your wishes
There’s a lot of issues that can happen here, yet most don’t think about it.
Instead, they think it’s just “how things are”, where default options have to happen - and how courts are always going to take their money…
Some truth to this, but a Will can easily mitigate a lot of it as well.
Now, since the courts have “instructions” to follow, the process is automatically streamlined.
They bring your Executor in to start following your instructions, and everything is handled accordingly after that.
Sure, there might be a hiccup here and there, but it’s very minimal.
When the right instructions are in place, you automatically save your family thousands of dollars, along with a lot of stress…
BUT, in the spirit of transparency, there are a few exceptions to this as well.
Very rare exceptions, but they do happen, so for this next step I want to take you through and figure out how much of your assets will actually reach this stage (i.e. probate).
If it’s very minimal, you can be alright without a Will.
No need to stress over $10 worth of silverware, but at the same time, there’s always different factors to consider.
Because of this, I’m going to go through and describe some “pre-probate” planning.
This will give you a lot of value no matter what, as you want to always try and mitigate this “probate” process as much as possible, but it’ll also double down as a “should you do a Will?” exercise.
Consider this a free lesson on “Estate Planning”, and if it makes sense at the end, we’ll have a link to our “Creating Your Own Will” product - but only if it’s something you need to do.
All of that will make sense once you get done with this exercise, so let’s skip the small talk and jump into the good stuff.
For the rest of this article, I’m going to take you through an exercise, one that’ll show how many “probate assets” you currently have.
Doing this will not only see if you should create a Will or not, but it’ll also show you some areas you can mitigate right away and in turn - save some money because of it.
Valuable exercise either way, even if you’re not interested in creating a Will today, but let’s get started with:
Step #1 - Listing out your assets
For the first part of this process, it always helps if we go through and get a “general idea” of your asset list.
Doesn’t need to be anything “too” detailed now, you can always go back and do a “final draft” later on, but creating a quick list now will give you a general overview to work back from.
Because of that, if you have time now, I highly advise taking out a piece of paper and doing some “napkin math”.
With this napkin math, begin by writing down every asset you can think of, then assigning a value to it.
For example, if you’re a “standard” Estate, you might have an asset list that goes something along the lines of:
- Checking Account - $20K
- Savings Account - $50K
- Retirement Account - $400K
- House - $250K
- Vehicle #1 - $30K
- Vehicle #2 - $20K
- Gun Collection - $100K
You get the hint.
At this point, generally just advise listing “big assets” as well.
That’s all we need to do for these purposes, but as a head’s up now, Wills can serve as a good “catch-all” if you have any sentimental assets you want to consider later on.
In other words, if you have your mother’s wedding ring in the house, and you want your younger sister to get it when you pass - then you might want to create a Will.
If all your children are sons, they might not care about it as much, especially if your younger sister is significantly younger than you.
With default options, it’d automatically go to them, with a Simple Will in place - you can make sure that one asset goes to her.
Anyway, something we’ll cover in more detail later on, but for now - take a second to sit down and do your “napkin math”.
Shouldn’t take too long, 10 minutes is fine, but after that we’ll then move onto:
Step #2 - Beneficiary accounts
Alright, so when it comes to “Estate Distribution”, the 3 primary stages are:
- Stage #1 - Right of Survivorship Accounts
- Stage #2 - Beneficiary Accounts, and
- Stage #3 - Probate
With Right of Survivorship Accounts, this is something we’ll actually cover next, it’s just easier to show “Beneficiary” Accounts first.
Sometimes uncovers an Estate Planning mistake when we show it this way, so I’ll cover that part in more detail then, but when it comes to beneficiary accounts - these accounts are distributed BEFORE probate ever happens.
I guess one way you can look at it, is how:
Total Assets - (Beneficiary + Right of Survivorship Accounts) = Probate…
Meaning that if we can get all of your assets into a “beneficiary” or “right of survivorship” account beforehand, you’d avoid Probate - but that’s talk for later on.
For now, we want to go through and see how many of our assets fall into the “beneficiary” category, and the typical accounts that will are:
- Checking Accounts
- Savings Accounts
- Life Insurance, and
- Retirement Accounts
This certainly isn’t an exhaustive list, and not all of these accounts automatically come with beneficiaries so I generally advise contacting your Account Manager (i.e. banker) and making sure of this.
That’s especially true with checking accounts you’ve had for awhile, as most create them when they’re young and don’t even think about “beneficiaries” at this point.
Not a big deal then, but if you pass away without a beneficiary on your account, it’ll go to probate…
Creating unnecessary stress on your family because of it, as you could’ve avoided this altogether with a beneficiary beforehand.
Needless to say, after figuring out which accounts have beneficiaries, it helps to go back and put a “B” next to each of them on your asset list.
For example, if your asset list was:
- Checking account - $20K
- Savings account - $50K
- Retirement account - $400K
- House - $250K
- Gun Collection - $100K…
Then your asset list now would probably go something along the lines of:
- Checking account (B)
- Savings account (B)
- Retirement account (B)
- Gun Collection...
As you can’t have a beneficiary on your house or gun collection, so our updated list would look like this now.
Fair enough, we’re off to a good start, and the next thing we need to do after that is:
Step #3 - Right of survivorship
As I mentioned a little bit ago, when it comes to “Estate Distribution”, the process works in 3 stages - which are:
- Stage #1 - Right of survivorship
- Stage #2 - Beneficiary accounts, and
- Stage #3 - Probate…
And in the last step we covered “stage #2” distributions, because I always like to cover this first as it can show a potential overlap in this step.
In other words, a lot of people will assume somebody is a beneficiary, when they’re merely a “right of survivorship”.
Something that’ll make more sense next, but for now, when it comes to right of survivorship - these are the types of accounts that automatically transfer to your “co-owner”.
For example, if you and your spouse have a joint checking account, then it’s likely a “right of survivorship” account.
In this case, “your half” is automatically transferred to them, meaning they’re 100% owner now.
Very common with marital assets, BUT, not everything will fall underneath this category either.
I’ll explain how to mitigate that next, but for now, common examples of this are:
- Checking Accounts
- Savings Accounts, and
So our updated asset list will now look like this, as we want to put an “S” next to all survivorship accounts:
- Checking Account - (S)(B)
- Savings Account - (S)(B)
- Retirement Account - (B)
- House - (S)
- Gun Collection…
And as you can see, even though our “money accounts” are protected by both Survivorship and beneficiaries - everything else doesn’t work that way.
Retirement accounts can’t be joint, they’re just beneficiary-driven, and you’ll obviously want to put your spouse as the beneficiary on those.
That creates a scenario where they’ll get this right away, not having to wait for the probate process, and generally speaking - all other assets will go to them as well.
This is what happens in MOST default jurisdictions, even though some get a little weird, but the fun part happens in:
Step #4 - Estate Planning when you’re married
For this step, if you’re not married, the same thing will happen to you - just a “stage” earlier.
When you don’t have a spouse to pass assets onto, you’re just skipping this step, so it’ll still be relevant to you - but I’m going to assume you’re married for now.
It’ll help you see everything no matter what, so for this stage, the “initial” passing of a spouse is fairly straightforward.
When properly planned out, all of your assets will transfer to them, and no other issues will happen after that.
Fair enough, no worries, but what happens next is where most run into trouble.
At this stage, now that your spouse has all the assets, the “default” liquidation will fall underneath her “options”.
If you live in a traditional household and want all your assets to be passed onto your kids, it’ll likely work that way.
Only downside of doing this without a Will are the extra court costs I mentioned earlier, and your kids potentially feuding over some items, but that’s small in the overall scheme of things.
Not a big deal, but if your wishes get a little more complex than that, then things start to get interesting.
For example, let’s assume you have children of your own - and your spouse has children of their own.
In this case, now that all the assets were transferred to them first, then all of the remaining assets would then be distributed to their children.
Yours would be completely left out, and that could cause some issues - especially if you have certain items you’d like them to have (i.e. Gun Collection goes to your son).
Because of this, we advise one of two options:
Option #1 - Having a Will in place for yourself that passes “certain” assets onto people when you pass away, then the rest going to your spouse - or:
Option #2 - Creating a Will with your spouse, that way you know where all the assets are going after they pass away.
Remember, default options don’t have to happen, your Will takes precedence over them.
With the scenario I just went over, the “default option” would be having assets distributed to your spouse’s children, but if you created a Will with them - one that specifically stated where all the assets go afterwards…
Then you can make sure your children (or whoever it may be) are included as well.
- Gun Collection to Johnny
- House to Jimmy
- Remaining 20% to Sara
- Remaining 20% to Elizabeth
You get the hint.
At the end of the day, Wills aren’t complicated, they just make sure your wishes are carried out - as opposed to letting the courts take over and doing things that don’t coincide with your wishes.
That’s in addition to the money your Will saves on “probate costs”, which takes us to the final question:
Wills, do you need them?
When it comes to answering this question, it’s something that only you can address.
If you went through the exercise and figured out how none of your assets are going to reach probate, and how you don’t care what happens after your main beneficiary (i.e. spouse) passes away - then you’ll be fine.
In this case, you won’t have probate costs to worry about, and there’s no “second level” issues you have to avoid.
Because of that, it’s not worth your 30 minutes to create a Will, but for everybody else - it generally makes sense.
Contrary to popular belief, creating a Will isn’t expensive nor difficult to do.
With the right direction in place, you can create an “Ironclad” Will tonight, and if that sounds like something you’d be interested in - then please click on the link below:
Check out our special offer, and possibly save your family thousands of dollars because of it.
Ivon T. Hughes
Founder, Digital Wealth Media