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May Commentary: You Need a Will

It was just about two weeks ago when the world learned that Prince, one of the most beloved and creative artists of our time, had died at his Chanhassen, Minnesota home. For his legions of fans, myself included, his legacy will not be about his death, but rather his unique ability to make all of us see the world differently through the colorful lens of his music. Sadly, his legacy might become muddier for his closest loved ones, as it has now been reported that Prince died, like so many others, without a last will and testament.

Over the course of my years in practice, I have seen my fair share of families torn apart because the deceased didn't take the steps necessary to ensure that their wishes were carried out. While each situation is different, the overwhelming majority have one thing in common—they did not expect the fighting that ensued over custody, or assets, or a combination thereof in the wake of their loved one's passing.


Ironically, the group of people who are most commonly the culprits of not having a last will and testament or living will are those who need it most: the parents of young children. While many parents may be cash-strapped or without significant monetary assets, they have, and are responsible for, the most important assets of all—the care and support of their children, even if, heaven forbid, they are not around to provide it themselves.


Now I could take spend hours telling you stories of the answers I have heard as to why a family does not have these documents in place, but the truth is that all of these answers amount to versions of "the dog ate my homework". Instead, I am going to share with you some of the REAL consequences that can arise from not having done any estate planning at the time of your death.


1. The Court decides who gets legal custody of the children. Without a will, and without a surviving parent, your wishes for who raises your children are virtually meaningless. Anyonecan nominate themselves for guardianship, and the Court will ultimately decide who is best. That's right, the most important decision that you as a parent can ever make is now up to a man or woman who has never met you, never spoken to you, and has no clue what you think of the family members who have nominated themselves for the job. I promise you, no matter whom you choose, it is better than having the State choose for you.


2. Your State's interstate laws control who gets your assets. While there are certain assets that pass to your beneficiaries without trouble, any probate assets (sole property, personal property like jewelry, furniture and automobiles, individual bank accounts, etc.) are fed directly into the state-determined formula. While the formula varies from state to state, it is not as simple as "my spouse gets everything."I can tell you from experience that the state formula is not what most people want for their family. Many would prefer to have the surviving spouse inherit all assets so they can make the best decisions for their family with the most financial flexibility. Without a will, you have taken that choice away from them.


3. You leave medical decisions up in the air. Now we have all heard horror stories of a parent, spouse or child having to make the decision to "pull the plug."  I have seen it happen in my own family, and it is unimaginable. The truth is, it never has to happen. Why would you ever choose to leave these horrible decisions up to those who will be most impacted by your passing? Why would you ask them to live with that guilt and the constant thought of whether or not they did the right thing? It doesn't matter if they make the right decision or not, you have left them with no guidance and no comfort. This should never be the lasting memory you leave with the people you care about most in the world.


The bottom line is that not having a will takes control out of your hands and puts it in the hands of the exact opposite person who should be making these decisions. Very often, I hear from clients, "I'm sure our families will take care of it." Well folks, that is just about the worst answer of all as to why you don't have a will. I can promise you that there are very few life events that create more bad blood, and end more family relationships, than the death of a loved one. I know too many people who no longer have relationships with their children, siblings, spouse's family, parents and step-parents to be anything other than blunt about this.


If you think you don't need a will, you are wrong. And if you think that you don't need a will and you have children, you are not only are putting the people who need you most in a terrible position.


The good news is that it is not too late. You can call an estate attorney today and get the ball rolling. If you don't know an estate attorney, call me, and I will recommend one. I promise that at the end of the process, you will sleep a little bit better, knowing that your wishes will be carried out for your family, even if you are not around to see it happen.

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 Securities offered through American Portfolios Financial Services, Inc. Member FINRA/SIPC (FINRA/SIPC). American Portfolios Financial Services, Inc. and American Portfolios Advisors, Inc. are not affiliated with any other named business entities mentioned.

This communication is strictly intended for individuals residing in the state(s) of CA, CO, CT, FL, IL, KY, MA, MD, NJ, NY, PA and VA. No offers may be made or accepted from any resident outside the specific states referenced.

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