Costly Mistake: Not Having a Last Will and Testament

In my seminars, speaking engagements and in one-to-one consultations with individuals, I am always addressing the issue of not having a proper estate plan, more specifically, a Last Will and Testament and its’ effect on your family and loved ones.  This month on “CBS This Morning - Eye on Money Series” with Jill Schlesinger – author of "The Dumb Thing Smart People Do With Their Money", this issue was highlighted.

The interview was with a Massachusetts woman who could lose the home she has lived in for most of her life because her stepfather did not have a Last Will and Testament.  She is currently in probate litigation over the home she and her family have lived in for nearly four decades.  Her late mother and stepfather purchased the home for $23,000 in 1980. Her stepfather did 90% of remodel work on the home.  The home is now valued at over $1 million. Despite being raised by her stepfather and providing him with 24/7 care until his passing, she has no claim on the estate since the stepfather did not have a Last Will and Testament providing for same.  Without a Last Will and Testament, a deceased individual’s estate is distributed under the intestate succession law. In Massachusetts, this means the heirs to receive in her stepfather’s estate are a group of estranged relatives in Barbados. Therefore, they only way she can retain her home without being evicted is for her to purchase the home from the heirs in Barbados.  The same holds true in Kentucky, in that the intestate succession statute does not provide for stepchildren to inherit. In fact, without a Last Will and Testament, your spouse in 4th on the list to inherit after children, parents and siblings.

By not having a Last Will and Testament, you lose the ability to direct how you want your estate to be distributed.  In today’s modern family, not having a Last Will and Testament can be quite detrimental in that you cannot provide for your stepchildren, domestic partners, or friends that you consider family.  As stated above, under intestate succession you will also not be properly providing for your spouse as they are 4th on the list to inherit.  Once you have passed, you cannot remedy this estate planning mistake.  Therefore, a properly prepared and executed Last Will and Testament is paramount.  In addition to getting a Last Will and Testament, you also need a Durable Power of Attorney and a Living Will and Health Care Surrogate Designation.  Lastly, a detailed set of instructions for your family and friends regarding where to find your important documents, your wishes regarding funeral arrangements, where to find your accounts so that assets do not go unclaimed, important contact information, passwords for digital accounts, etc. is very important.  You can complete this task by downloading our Personal Records Organizer.

Remember you are never too young, you are never too young, but you can be too late when it comes to estate planning.

- Hon. Thomas K. Stone -