BY: KATHY CHRISTOFFEL, CTFA
Market President, Argent Trust-Fort Worth Market
None of us are going to live forever — and yet, it can be surprisingly challenging to convince some people to get started setting up a will.
It’s not that the average person doesn’t realize the importance of getting their affairs in order, but they often don’t know where to start. When I broach the topic with clients, they have similar questions: Do I really need a will? How do I understand what I’m supposed to be doing? How much is enough to leave the kids?
It’s human nature to drag our feet when it comes to confronting difficult topics. However, dying without a will can cause complications for your descendants and may lead to some of your assets being distributed in a manner different from your wishes. But even more concerning is what can happen if you have a serious accident and don’t die. Who’s going to handle medical decisions if you’re incapacitated, for instance?
First steps in setting up a will
Setting up a will does require focus and may lead to some tough conversations. But by following these steps and working with your financial professional and a qualified attorney, you can create security for yourself and your loved ones.
1| Understand what you own. This might be trickier than some think. Taking stock of your assets involves asking if you really own everything you think you do — or if there are co-owners you might not be thinking about. Perhaps you bought your house with a now ex-spouse, but the deed hasn’t been updated. Or maybe you think you’re a signer on your mom’s bank account, but are actually a joint owner of those assets. Before moving on to the next step, investigate any areas of ownership where you might not be 100% certain and make sure all your accounts contain accurate, updated information.
2| Understand where you want your assets to go. Are you single or married? Do you have children or grandchildren? While many people pass their assets down to their family members, others are charitably inclined and want the majority of their assets to go to a cause they support.
When my clients aren’t sure where they want their money to go after they’re gone, I’m happy to give ideas and suggestions. Is there a school that’s important in your world? A cause that tugs at your heartstrings? Is there a church or medical entity that has made a difference in your life? Do you know someone who’s been an amazing mentor, or do you have a family member who could use financial help? Judging by a client’s first few answers, I can generally come up with deeper ideas and thoughts to guide them to an answer that feels right for them.
3| Consider special situations. Depending on who you want to give assets to, there might be some complex aspects of creating a will that require a trust or another specialized financial instrument. For instance, a person with special needs might have their Medicaid or other benefits jeopardized if they were to receive a large amount of money outright. Make sure that you discuss any situations like this with your financial professional so that any needed accommodations can be made as your will is being set up.
4| Get a qualified attorney. While we don’t practice law at Argent, we have deep connections with experienced attorneys in the areas of the country we serve, so we’re glad to assist our clients by making a referral to a qualified probate attorney. Each client’s financial situation, personality and needs are unique, which we take into account when making a referral.
Throughout the planning process of setting up a will, we also make it a point to stay as involved as our clients want us to be. People can be intimidated when talking to a legal professional, so we can help by functioning as a translator, making sure any important financial details are being accurately communicated to the attorney. (It should be emphasized that we only do this with the client’s permission.)
When it comes to setting up a will, drafting the actual document is easy; it’s much more challenging making sure people are comfortable and happy with the flow of their decisions. But remember that even after your will is drafted and signed, it’s not set in stone. If you decide in five or 10 years that you want it to be set up differently, you can always modify it.
So, take that all-important first step by initiating conversations with your spouse, your children and your parents. Waiting is just prolonging the inevitable, and you’ll be surprised how relieved you are when you’re done.