Everyone needs a will, but less than half of American adults have one. The young think they’ll live forever. Or they don’t have any wealth to worry about. But if you have a child or own a home, you need a will.
A May 18, 2016 Gallup poll found 44% of all adults had wills. But likelihood depended on age, education, and economic status. The percentage rose to 75% of upper-income (above $75,000 per year) college educated Americans 55 and older. That’s good news.
In Part I we named two reasons older adults might not have a will: (a) we can’t bear to contemplate our own death; and (b) we can’t decide how to distribute our wealth. Here are other reasons:
1. We don’t want our kids to think of our money as theirs. Parents want to maintain the right to spend it on themselves (even blow it on an around-the-world cruise) without having to explain or justify the expenditure to their kids. It’s the parents’ money! (Yes. But make the will. No need to reveal how much money you have. But do say who is your Personal Representative – after getting that person’s agreement to serve – and where the will is kept.)
2. We don’t want to discourage our kids’ ambition. Gloria Vanderbilt, the vastly wealthy mother of Anderson Cooper, left her money to others. She told him he was talented and successful and could make his own way. He agreed! (It’s significant that she talked to him about her decision first. If this is a concern, do what she did. Again, you don’t have to disclose the amount.)
3. We may be considering a large gift to charity, but don’t want to be locked in. (If this is you, make a will and reveal your thinking to your kids. It’s easy to change your mind. Just keep your lawyer on speed dial.) And be sure to use a probate or estate lawyer. Will-making is not a do-it-yourself project!
4. Your life is in a state of flux. Maybe a family member’s health, job, or marriage is shaky. It may feel safer to wait and see what happens. (Advice: Make the will based on the current situation. Life is always changing. The belief that we have control doesn’t make it so. Again, you don’t need to reveal numbers, and it’s easy to change your will if circumstances change.)
5. A family secret. IRS has a lien on your home. Or, as internet DNA sites demonstrate daily, there’s a secret relative. A parent may want to provide for a lover or child that others don’t know about. (This one is tough. But understand that whether you tell them now, or they learn about it when you die, the secret will come out. It’s going to be easier on the family if you reveal the secret yourself and ask forgiveness if appropriate. But whether you can bite that bullet or not, you still need to make a will.)