Estate Planning Blog Articles

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Problems Created When No Will Is Available

Ask any estate planning attorney how much material they have for a book, or a movie based on the drama they see from family squabbles when someone dies without a will. There’s plenty—but a legal requirement of confidentiality and professionalism keeps those stories from circulating as widely as they might. This may be why more people aren’t as aware as they should be of how badly things go for loved ones when there’s no will, or the will is improperly drafted.

Disputes range from one parent favoring one child or children engaged in fierce fighting over personal possessions when there’s no will specifying who should get what, or providing a system for distribution, according to a recent article titled “Estate planning: 68% of Americans lack a will” from New Orleans City Business.

People don’t consider estate planning as an urgent matter. The pace of life has become so hectic as to push estate planning appointments to the next week, and the next. They also don’t believe their estates have enough value to need to have a will, but without a will, a modest estate could evaporate far faster than if an estate plan were in place.

The number of people having a will has actually decreased in the last twenty years. A few sources report the number keeps dipping from 50% in 2005, 44% in 2016 and 32% in 2022. In 2020, more Americans searched the term “online will” than in any other time since 2011.

Younger people seem to be making changes. Before the pandemic, only 16% of Americans ages 18-34 had a will. Today caring.com reports 24% of these young adults have a will. Maybe they know something their elders don’t!

One thing to be considered when having a will drafted is the “no contest clause.” Anyone who challenges the will is immediately cut out of the will. While this may not deter the person who is bound and determined to fight, it presents a reason to think twice before engaging in litigation.

Many people don’t know they can include trust provisions in their wills to manage family inheritances. Trusts are not just for super wealthy families but are good planning tools used to protect assets. They are used to control distributions, including setting terms and conditions for when heirs receive bequests.

Today’s will must also address digital assets. The transfer and administration of digital assets includes emails, electronic access to bank accounts, retirement accounts, credit cards, cryptocurrency, reward program accounts, streaming services and more. Even if the executor has access to log-in information, they may be precluded from accessing digital accounts because of federal or state laws. Wills are evolving to address these concerns and plan for the practicalities of digital assets.

Reference: New Orleans City Business (Sep. 8, 2022) “Estate planning: 68% of Americans lack a will”

What Items Should Not Be Stored in a Safe Deposit Box?

We’re reminded daily about living in a digital world where anything of importance is stored in the cloud. However, if you were thinking about getting rid of your safe deposit box, says the article “9 Things You’ll Regret Keeping in a Safe Deposit Box,” from Kiplinger, think again.

By all means keep your prized possessions like baseball cards in a safe deposit box. Some documents also do belong in a bank vault. However, it’s not the right place for everything.

Even if the bank’s ATMs are open 24/7, access to the safe deposit box is limited to hours when the bank is open. If you need something in an emergency on a weekend, holiday or at night, you’re stuck. The same goes for natural disasters, which seem to be happening more frequently in certain parts of the country. Reduced operations and branch closures happened because of the pandemic and today’s hiring problems might mean a longer wait even during regular business hours at a bank branch.

Here’s a look at what not to put in your safe deposit box:

Cash money. Most banks are very clear: cash should not be kept in a safe deposit box. Read your contract with the bank. The FDIC does not protect cash, unless it’s in a bank account.

Passports. Unless you travel often enough to keep a passport next to your wallet, it may be tempting to put it in the safety deposit box. However, if an emergency arises, or you get a great last minute travel bargain, you won’t have quick access to your passport.

An original will. Keeping copies of your will in a safe deposit box is fine, but not the original. After death, the bank seals the safe deposit box until an executor can prove they have the legal right to access it.

Letters of Intent. A letter of intent, or letter of instruction, is a letter to your family, telling them what your wishes are for your funeral or memorial service and giving details on specific bequests. However, if it’s locked up in a safe deposit box, your final wishes may not see the light of day for months. Keep the letter of intent with your original will. You might also wish to send the letter of intent to anyone who is designated to receive a specific item.

Power of Attorney. Similar to the will, the POA needs to be accessible any time, day, or night. Keep it with your original will and provide copies to anyone who might need it. The same goes for your Advance Directives for Health Care or Living Will. It won’t do you any good to say you don’t want to be kept alive on a heart and lung machine if your agents can’t get to these documents.

Valuables, Jewelry or Collectibles. The FDIC does not insure safe deposit boxes or their contents. There are no federal laws governing safe deposit boxes and no law says the bank has to reimburse you for stolen items. Protect valuables with a supplemental policy or a rider to your homeowner’s insurance policy and keep them at home.

Spare House Keys. How likely are you to be able to get to your house keys even if the bank is open, if your key to the safe deposit box is in your home? Enough said.

Illegal, Dangerous, or Liquid Items. When you opened your safe deposit box, you signed a contract listing what you may and may not keep in a safe deposit box. Firearms, explosive, illegal drugs, and hazardous materials are among the things prohibited from being kept in a safe deposit box. The same goes for less dramatic items: if you have a collection of rare whiskey, keep it at home.

Reference: Kiplinger (Sep. 24, 2021) “9 Things You’ll Regret Keeping in a Safe Deposit Box”

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