Do I need a Last Will and Testament?

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I have been rolling this one over for a bit now and wondering where it fits in my investment path. I just got back from a trip to Australia and probably 3-4 months ahead of it I asked myself the worst case scenario. What happens to my kids? What happens to my house, cars, cat, dog, bad paintings, gym socks, 1984 Casio calculator watch in my underwear drawer? Well, not all of those, but a few of them… So I decided to look into it a bit beforehand…

If you DON’T have a Will, odds are your kids will be taken care of. The court isn’t going to send them to a foster home if you have family willing to take them. The court is cold and cruel, but not that cruel. So if you have brothers, sisters, grandmothers willing to take them, they’ll probably be alright.

As far as your assets though, they can bounce around for months or even years till they find a proper home depending on what you’re worth. Principality.co.uk actually has a good flowchart of what will happen to your assets upon “expiration”.  But they don’t add in the timeframe that you’re looking at for the entire procedure to bounce its way through court.  Again, if you’re dirt poor though and don’t have anything worth fighting for, you probably don’t have to worry.  The chicken scratches on the napkin should suffice.  Another good splurge of info from the United Kingdom was here.

In the unfortunate event of intestacy, many people believe the Government takes their assets if they die without a Will. This isn’t true. It could only happen if you have no living next of kin. However, if you die without a Will, your assets will be distributed according to a legal formula. This might mean that your assets do not end up with the person you would have chosen, but may end up like this (courtesy of RCW 11.04.015).  Basically it means that your assets become “community property” or “separate property“.  By default in some states, without a valid Will and testament everything is community property.

Without a valid Last Will and Testament, the legalities can take months or sometimes even years. Until that time comes though, your surviving spouse or partner could be in a financial bind with the household, weekly, monthly, and daily bills to find and they will probably be on a reduced income.  They don’t want to worry about how you’re going to make it to the final resting place. Your surviving spouse or partner may not have access to money needed for expenses he or she would normally have a right to, because the assets could be frozen until all the formalities have been sorted out.

Long story fairly short (not too short, but not overly long either), you should have a Last Will and Testament somewhere in your mix if you’re worth anything and/or have children.  You’re going to make it a lot less stressful if you take an early “dirt nap”.  I have to admit that I didn’t craft one up before I left for my trip because they can be fairly expense, I was quoted 3 times between $800-$1400 and I wanted to make sure I had the funds for the trip beforehand.  But it is in the plans once we’ve settled back in and are back in the black (after paying ourselves first with our retirement portfolio), which is likely beginning of the year 2008.

One other caveat I looked into, as I have my ROTH IRA through Edward Jones, is a Transfer On Death agreement.  The T.O.D. is basically an abbreviated Will and Trust that legally allocates your funds within that firm (I don’t know if other firms offer this, please chime in if this is the case).  So I had a money market and my ROTH that would have been figured out without a will for $75.00.  Which is a much cheaper price than the $800-$1400 bill I was quoted earlier.  Unless this form works also, and I can hide it next to my fancy calculator Casio wristwatch  to cover myself in the future – anyone have any insight on printing one off the internet?  Is that valid?  I couldn’t find any info on it –

If anyone has any advice or recommendations of a good place to sign up for a Will for less than $800, drop me a line, I would certainly be “willing” to sit down and chat about it with them –  

Ending on a comical note, I ran across this joke in my search to find all the dirt on Wills…

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