Today we're going to cover a subject that very few people enjoy thinking about.
Their mortality. I know this to be true because I've been procrastinating about drafting my own Will ever since my daughter was born.
In fact, I should have drafted one when I got married to Mrs. Max. It's true that we didn't have much in the way of assets back then, but as I've recently learned, drafting a Will goes well beyond what you leave behind.
I finally pulled the trigger on this very important action last week. After going through the process, I feel thankful that nothing had happened up to this point. I consider myself a reasonably responsible person, and I don't usually put off necessary tasks.
Think about it. I'm a personal finance blogger who by nature, enjoys planning and executing a long term vision. Why didn't I take care of this sooner?!
The Importance of a Will
Just about everyone should have a Will drafted and executed, especially if you're a parent. A Will prevents intestate succession laws from kicking in after your death. Those laws, which vary by state, would get to dictate how your estate (stuff) gets distributed, and if applicable, who gets guardianship of your kids.
Most people don't want those decision to be made by a court on their behalf. Without a Will, that's exactly what would happen.
In our case, we want my brother to get guardianship of my daughter, and be the executor of our estate in case we both pass away while she's a minor. The intestate succession laws in Texas would not appoint him by default. We need a Will to assert that desire.
One of the few stories I remember about my grandfather, who passed away before I was born, was how his family (including my mother) were left destitute after his sudden death at an early age. He was a very successful banker, with many assets. Unfortunately, he never had a formal Will, which allowed his siblings to circumvent his wishes by stealing all his assets and leaving nothing behind for his wife and kids.
I always wonder how different life would have been for my mother had she benefited from the legacy her father had built, but failed to pass on.
Probate vs. Non-Probate Assets
Probate is the process a court uses to determine how to distribute your property after death. Everyone needs to go through the probate process. How painless and costly it ends up being, will be a function of how well you've handled your affairs. Having a Will is a key component of simplifying the process.
When doing estate planning, it's important to understand which of your assets are considered probate assets, versus those that are non-probate assets. Any assets classified as probate assets must go through the formal court process.
Generally, probate assets are those that were owned solely by the deceased. Here's a graphic that shows some of the differences from a law firm.
You'll notice that a last Will and Testament covers you on probate assets. It does not cover you on non-probate assets, which are generally handled by a trust.
Most of those assets, however, can have “Payable on Death” or “Transfer on Death” named beneficiaries such as your spouse or child. As long as that's who you want to leave those assets to, you don't need to create a trust, and they avoid the probate process by default since they're considered non-probate assets.
I bet that I'm close to losing most of you at this point. If you've taken any time to research Wills in general, and the process as a whole, you know it can be pretty confusing. When something appears overly complicated, it leads to a classic case of analysis paralysis.
Add in fear of death, and the associated legal costs, it's no wonder that 56% of adults ignore their Will according to this Gallup poll.
The trend has been worsening over the past ten years or so.
I suspect that probably has to do with the increased debt loads and expenses most households have these days. Who has time to think about or pay for a Will when student loan payments have to be made?
Mrs. Max and I used to be part of that statistic ourselves.
As our assets grew, and our situation became a bit more complicated, we kept pushing off drafting a Will. Whenever I tried to initiate the process by speaking with lawyers on the subject, I only succumbed to more analysis paralysis. Between what seemed like exorbitant fees and stressful decision making, I made no progress over the years.
What finally forced me to act was our upcoming slow travel trip this summer. And what eventually helped me put something in place was yet another excellent online platform looking to solve a problem I had.
This is where Willing comes in.
They're an online platform that tries to take the complexity out of writing a Will, and other basic Estate Planning needs. Their goal is to make the process so simple. It leaves most people with no excuses for not having a Will.
Here's a snapshot of their philosophy from their website.
They believe in that philosophy enough to offer their basic Will package for Free.
I found them after a particularly frustrating experience with a lawyer who wanted to charge $3,700 for an Estate Planning package for Mrs. Max and I. Although I do not doubt that the package would have been very comprehensive, I wasn't sold on the value compared to the alternatives and my immediate needs.
I mostly had two primaries (immediate) needs for my Estate Plan. Proper guardianship of my daughter in case Mrs. Max and I were out of the picture, and designating an executor to manage our assets.
We found Willing's online platform perfect for our needs, and at a fraction of the cost of a lawyer.
The Willing Experience
They offer multiple packages depending on specific needs. Here's a snapshot of their packages, along with the associated benefits of each.
We opted for the couples plan, which covered all our basic needs. I'm still debating whether to add the Home Transfer Deed option, which I can do at any time. For now, I'm comfortable with what we have drafted.
Once I chose the plan, the entire process took Mrs. Max and me a total of 30 minutes to complete!
The interface was very slick and simple. It walks you through step-by-step questions to help draft the applicable documents. It even customizes the forms based on the requirements of your particular state, to ensure they are legally valid.
You don't need any information to prepare, other than a clear idea of who you want your beneficiaries and executors to be. Here's a screenshot at the start of the process…
After completing the personal details screen, you're taken to your dashboard where you can start the process for each of the documents included in your plan. Here are the ones we completed…
We ended up with the following documents for each of us 30 minutes later:
Last Will & Testament
Covers guardianship wishes for our daughter, distribution of property wishes, final arrangements wishes, and executor designations. This section was helpful for us to complete together since it allowed us to discuss certain specifics such as whether or not we want a ceremony, and what we want to be done with our remains. It also allows you to add a letter to the executor of any additional wishes, although that letter is legally non-binding.
This document empowers a designated agent to make health care decisions on your behalf in case you're unable to do so for yourself. It's essentially a medical power of attorney. It also allows you to state the type of treatment you want to receive if you're suffering from a terminal condition.
Durable Power of Attorney for Finances
This document empowers a designated agent to handle all financial affairs in case you become incapacitated. You can grant them the power to act on your behalf across multiple activities specified in the document.
The Willing software takes care of drafting all these documents for you, based on the answers you provide to the questions you step through. It was effortless and straightforward to complete.
Once you're done, you print all the documents and take them to a notary to formally execute them. Willing provides detailed instructions on which documents need a notary and witnesses to execute correctly and legally for your state. We used the notary service at our local UPS store for $14, which included two of their witnesses, which was convenient.
All of the above cost us a Grand Total of $213! And less than one hour of our time.
Final Thoughts & Reader Bonus
Using a lawyer to draft your Will and Trust documents will yield the most customized and prescriptive wishes for your Estate Plan. The high cost associated with hiring one is also based on the time they spend walking clients through all the potential pitfalls based on their unique circumstances.
I spoke to three separate lawyers during this process and can see where their approach is necessary for individual estates and households.
My conclusion though was that our situation was not complex enough to warrant all that attention.
The Willing process helped Mrs. Max and me to talk through our wishes in a structured way and forced us to analyze what arrangements would be best for our daughter. It also facilitated discussions with our agents/executors since Willing makes it easy to notify them of our intent. That process alone is worth the cost they charge, in my opinion.
I see the Estate Plan provided by Willing as the minimum necessary documents to reflect our wishes.
Those documents are like an insurance policy, and much better than having nothing at all on record. Although we can come up with fancier estate plans by working with a good lawyer, nothing stops us from doing so at a later date.
In fact, with the documents I drafted using Willing's software, I'm now in a better position to approach a lawyer should I want a more customized approach.
In the meantime, I can rest easy knowing I have something legitimate on record, which should help my family avoid a frustrating and costly process in case of any issues.
I saved myself over $2000 compared to the cheapest lawyer I consulted. That particular lawyer's process involved sending me a bunch of forms which I had to painstakingly complete and return. The documents were effectively no different than what I ended up with on Willing for only $199.
I was so happy with the experience that I reached out to Willing's Chief Marketing Officer directly to find out if they were willing to extend an exclusive discount to readers. They were happy to oblige, and have extended a promotional code for Max Your Freedom readers that save 34% on any of the packages.
The Willing promotional code or coupon is “MAXYOURFREEDOM.” Make sure to type it in on their site before you choose a plan. You'll be prompted to choose a plan after you click the “Get Started” button and sign in. Once you provide your basic details, you'll be taken to the ‘choose your plan screen.' The promotional button is at the very bottom of that screen. Click below to check them out!
If you have any issues, you should be able to contact them directly to apply the promotion code.
Feel free to forward this post to any friends or family that have been dragging their feet on this task because of the costs or time involved. Willing makes it easy…no more excuses!