Ask the grumpies: Why Leah needs to get a will

Leah asks:

How essential is a will, and how do I get over the inertia and actually get one since I suspect it’s likely really important?

If you don’t have kids, a will probably isn’t that essential unless you’re wealthy and care what happens to your money after you’re gone.  You’ll be dead and may not care if your potential heirs end up giving all your money to lawyers trying to figure out who gets what.  If that’s the case, just let probate deal with stuff.  If you’re wealthy enough to be affected by the estate tax, dying without a will means that the government will probably end up with a greater share as well, but I have a hard time feeling sorry for people in that category.

If you have kids who are not yet adults, you need a will because you need to make it clear where your kids will go (and who will take care of their money) in the event that both parents die.  This alone is the reason we got wills.  If you have kids, providing for their future care is an important responsibility and should be done ASAP.  You don’t want them to end up in the foster care system even temporarily.  It’s also important to make sure that you have named the person who will be taking care of any assets you leave them, for example, the life insurance that you have also purchased because you have minor children.  We have named DH’s brother and his wife’s family as the first place our kids would go (with their permission), but my sister would be in charge of their inheritance.  Her values about paying for education and so on are more in line with ours and she would be better able to force DH’s brother and wife to take an annual stipend for their upkeep.

It is also useful to have advance directives about what happens if you are incapacitated, though depending on what state you live in, you can do this with your doctor or using an online form rather than with your lawyer.  This was part of the full package when we did our wills.  Here’s the info for MinnesotaMichigan allows you to file yours in a statewide registry, which is pretty cool.

How to get over the inertia?

Right now.  I mean, literally right now, contact a bunch of people in your area to ask them who they have used for a will.  Once you’ve got a name, MAKE AN APPOINTMENT.  Spring break is probably a good time to actually go in, but make that appointment now.

Now, they may send you a long form asking detailed minutia about your assets.  If your net worth is nowhere near the estate tax limit, do not let this form stop you from actually going in.  Let them know that you don’t need anything fancy because your wealth is lower than 2.7 million, the estate tax limit in Minnesota (or 11.4 million if you live in Michigan, since Michigan has no estate tax…), (actually, let them know it’s lower than 1 or 2 million if that is true), so that other stuff is irrelevant.  Then you might not need to fill out the form.

You, Leah, (and your DH) need a will because you have kids.  Having a will is the responsible thing to do.  It will be pricey (ours was ~$500, but that was a decade ago!  Though we get to update ours for free in perpetuity as part of that upfront cost), but it will be worth it for your kids if the worst possible thing happens.  It’s worth saving up for.  It’s worth taking out of your emergency fund.

Grumpeteers, how did you get your will done?  Anyone have success with online outfits like legalzoom?

25 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: Why Leah needs to get a will”

  1. yetanotherpfblog Says:

    The attorney who is drafting our estate plan is a referral from a more expensive attorney that our friends use (because I guess they have lots of money and need fancy people legal vehicles for it). We are doing the full suite of docs with her (will, living will, trust, power of attorney, guardianship designations) so we’re looking in the $3kish range for hcol area. I think will alone was closer to $1.2k

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Wow, that is expensive! We got the full suite as well—it came as a package.

    • Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

      I had a lot of trouble getting anyone to even reply to my contacts about doing our will and trust and so we ended up paying an embarrassingly high number I can’t even say here for a small firm lawyer to do ours. In the grand scheme of things, it was more important to get it done than to keep spending weeks and months trying to get someone to answer me but I’m still embarrassed at how much we paid. It didn’t even come with a lifetime of updates. Grump.

      But it’s done and we have a guardian for our child and dogs and separate executors for the money part and we just need to make sure they are clearer on their roles with some basic instructions for what to do with the life insurance and all our assets.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        The important thing is that your child is protected should the worst happen. And you were able to afford the cost! I’m guessing these higher fees aren’t just because of HCOL areas but also that the states are more complicated.

  2. Ali Says:

    So my husband is an attorney, but specializes in an area other than willls (though he used to work in a general practice where wills were part of their standard services), so take this advice for what it’s worth. He did our wills and says if your estate is below the estate tax threshold it’s crazy to pay a lot for assistance with a will and would recommend online services like legal zoom. For doing our own personal wills, he used a template that he used at his old firm (where they charged $2k+ to essentially fill in the blanks). The only real time an attorney is putting into a standard Will is walking you through the various decisions you need to make. So take that for what it’s worth. 🙂 (all this advice is out the window if you have a complicated estate, lots of assets, etc.)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      For us it was worth the $500 12 years ago (especially with the lifetime service where they send us a letter and invite us in for free to change things whenever some law changes, and we updated for free when DC2 was born) for the full service, but I’m not sure it would have been worth $3K or even $2K for us(!)

      So legalzoom sounds promising, Leah! If the prices in your area are prohibitive, definitely look into that. :)

      • Ali Says:

        Yes, $500 is a deal! Anything over $1k, and you are making the attorney’s day because the rate per hour on that is insane (especially when you consider someone charging a few thousand probably doesn’t truly specialize in that…because you are going to pay $$$ for real specialization, which most of us don’t need anyway.)

        Now to remind my husband that we need to update ours for child #3! Sort of like the cobbler’s wife over here….

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        YES! Definitely update it!

  3. hypatia cade Says:

    We spent ~ $500 4 years ago. We got a will, medical/financial power of attorney and a bit of other stuff done. We probably should update because our financial picture has changed. It was a lawyer and not an online thing and it was useful to talk it through.

    Another thing to consider and plan for is who would take your kids WHILE THE GUARDIAN CAME FOR THEM… Having someone local available if your named guardian isn’t local is useful. This probably doesn’t need to be someone named in a will, but rather the person who is the emergency contact on school documents etc.

    We also split the guradianship and financial responsibility up.

  4. rose Says:

    If you have children and no will/trust You Need One AT ONCE!!!!!! Because you absolutely do not want the state to determine who will raise your children and get your money. IF you have one you need to review it about every 5-8 years and know if there have been legal changes that impact your decisions or life changes that make difference…… May be that person who was going to be the children’s guardian has had changes that make differences in their abilities, AND, do you have a second lined up and named for the children and/or the money and/or to act as advanced directive person. ALSO: When did you last review and change your insurance heirs on policies at work and held as an individual? NO, you cannot rely on eldest child to share equally with siblings whoa re not named!!!!! (Besides there are tax consequences to each sibling involved.)
    Remember if you die your spouse may remarry and on your spouse’s death 100% might go to your replacement not your kids so be aware when you set up will trust that you have thought that through. Because: Whoops there went your children’s college money………
    Cinderella and Snow White were written from human experiences that happened and still happen.

  5. gasstationwithoutpumps Says:

    We set up our will over 20 years ago, with my brother as guardian. We definitely need to redo the will this summer, as our son is now an adult. California has no estate tax, and we are nowhere near rich enough for the federal estate tax to matter (the exemption is over $11million).

  6. Leigh Says:

    We finally signed ours last year! It cost about $1000 for wills, power of attorney docs, and healthcare docs in a HCOL. We don’t have children, but we had some other complicating factors and I’m glad we went to an actual attorney. We hired a fiduciary to serve as executor if neither of us can do it (cost $250 to open the file) and had a hard time picking medical POA people, partially due to proximity (we are far from most family members of our generation) and partially because I told my husband that the only way his geographically closest sibling could be his medical POA was if I was dead. My sibling isn’t very close either but we at least don’t argue on values and generally support each other’s life choices.

    In addition to a will, checking that any beneficiaries you have set on accounts or insurance is also very important!!! We checked this recently and I was set as a contingent beneficiary on one of my husband’s accounts instead of as primary, so that was remedied for sure.

    • Leigh Says:

      Despite not having children, having a will was really important to us because in our state, separate property doesn’t fully go to your spouse if you die without a will, which wasn’t what we wanted. Some of it goes to your blood next of kin, my parents and sibling. This was especially problematic when our primary residence was almost entirely my separate property…

  7. FF Says:

    When my mother died, after searching in vain around her apartment, we had to get a court order to open her safe deposit box to find the will. The will had last been updated shortly after I was born (I was in my forties) and all of the people named as executors/back-up executors (as well as the witnesses and lawyer) were long since dead. The bank mixed up the pages with a copy of my father’s will that was also in the safe deposit box when sending the will to the court and we had to have further proceedings to set the will aside. This was not difficult, as state law as to the heirs were in accord with the will. But the whole thing took a lot of time + legal costs. So my message is that if you make a will and like/love your heirs, let someone know where it is and enable them to access it, when necessary, and update the will every so often.

  8. Leah Says:

    I asked some coworkers, and apparently something like legalzoom is a work benefit. I’m going to ask HR next week!

    All this (legal forms and such) is on my adulting list.

  9. chacha1 Says:

    I did my will & healthcare directive with Willmaker software from Nolo, total cost a princely $60 including free notarization at my workplace. Simple because we don’t have kids and we don’t have any real assets aside from my 401(k) and IRA, and the DH is already the stated beneficiary on those as well as on my life insurance. I got just enough life insurance to fund a year of recovery/transition for each of us. DH still has not done a will or a healthcare directive. Don’t get me started.


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