August is National Make a Will month. You may not have been aware of this because you don’t care about the endless number of official monthly and daily notes each year. But, based on what the research tells us, many of you probably don’t know this because you haven’t thought about estate planning.
Citing a 2021 Gallup poll, the Congressional Budget Office says about 54% of Americans have no will. According to the same Gallup poll, 80% of people ages 18-29 don’t have a will, and 64% of people ages 30-49 haven’t taken the time to complete one either.
This isn’t good news, and makes the “make a will” message of the first month worth keeping in mind before we mentally jump into football season and the fall holidays. It’s also a message that employers and corporate human resources departments should consider when creating their own employee benefit packages.
As an estate planning attorney, I have found that there is a common misconception that creating wills, trusts and other end-of-life documents is only for the “ultra-rich” interested in minimizing some tax implications and maximizing asset protection. While the wealthy certainly need to consider estate planning, so do people across the economic spectrum.
It is likely that those who have any assets at all—regardless of their value—want to have a say in how they are dispersed after their death, and it is also likely that they do not want the legislature or the judicial system to make these decisions for them. Not only that, but everyone should make plans for their financial and health decisions in case they become incapacitated or, if they are a parent, to appoint guardians for minor children.
Without an estate plan, there can be shocking or even catastrophic unintended consequences. This can be very stressful for the surviving couples and the family they leave behind and can lead to legal disputes that last for years.
In Arkansas, if someone dies without a plan leaving behind a spouse and descendants, they leave one third of their personal estate, or 33.33%, and one third, 33.33%, of the real estate (in the form of life). real estate) to their spouses, while two-thirds (66.66%) of personal property and two-thirds (66.66%) of real property in the estate go to their descendants. Marriage with children is, of course, very common, so this outcome must be worrying to almost everyone. However, it is the law in Arkansas, absent an estate plan explicitly stating otherwise.
Furthermore, if you do not have an estate plan, and you have been married for less than three years and have no descendants, then at your death your spouse will not have everything, even though you may want it that way. Half will go to your parents, siblings, nieces, nephews, or even family members you’ve never met. This “newlywed” circumstance is another all too common situation where current laws simply defy conventional wisdom.
Another common misconception about estate planning is that it is too expensive or that it will require a lengthy visit to a lawyer’s office. These days, there are other faster and more affordable options, including online or “virtual” options that can be accessed from the comfort of your own home. Whatever approach you choose, you should choose to use a solution that includes the assistance of a licensed attorney. There is simply no substitute for hiring a licensed attorney to help you navigate the murky waters of estate planning.
In terms of higher costs, employers can help play a role in ensuring that more people have access to affordable estate planning options. With fall comes the “open enrollment” season, when employers offer a list of benefits to their employees. For employees, it is time to assess their personal risks and decide how to hedge them by choosing different products such as: health, dental, vision, life and so on.
Employers can now choose to offer financial support or special discounts to help employees obtain attorney-assisted estate planning products as part of this benefit package. In fact, this is probably the best way to improve the scary stats I mentioned earlier.
If you have assets that you want to leave in a specific way; (ii) you have minor children and want to control appointments of guardians; or (3) you want to plan to make a decision when incapacitated, you need to act now.
So, don’t let the “will month” go unnoticed. Start planning today and encourage your employer to help you and others by adding attorney-assisted estate planning products to their standard selection of employee benefits.
Editor’s note: Patrick H. Murphy is the owner of Murphy Law Firm, PLLC. He is the founder and co-owner of SimpleWillAn online platform that makes creating wills and estate planning documents simple and affordable. The opinions expressed are those of the author.