New data came out last week and some of the numbers were surprising. As estate planning lawyers, we know how important a healthy dose of transparency is when it comes to wills, trusts, insurance policies and other crucial documents. Unfortunately, only around 55% percent of American parents even have a will in place. Do your kids – whether they’re adults or minors – know where to find your estate planning documents?
Close to one-third of parents have no estate planning documents in place – not even a will. Only 16 percent of adults whose parents are still living say they could put their hands on those documents if they needed to access them. Just 40% of Americans have updated their estate documents in the past five years and 25% of adult children don’t know if their parents’ will has ever been updated.
Nearly 60% of adult children have no idea at all what’s included in Mom and Dad’s estate plan. That’s huge, because it means they’re likely in for at least one surprise when the time comes and it may not be a pleasant one.
Caring.com released the data from its latest survey. Andy Cohen, CEO of Caring.com says, “Wills and estate documents can be a touchy subject, but they are necessary conversations to have.” He goes on to explain, “Too often the surviving family members are left not knowing where to find the documents, or worse, have to go through a lengthy and expensive legal process because no documents were ever created.”
Even when a will or a trust is in place, the longer they go updated, the greater the odds of a smooth transition. Wills and trusts are legal minefields and as estate planning lawyers, we know the turmoil it can cause in families.
If turmoil exists before the death of a family member, it can certainly transcend into efforts to close the estate. Sibling rivalry is a big challenge when two children don’t get along or if there are long-simmering problems that were never resolved. It can lend to deep divides that are sometimes never mended. Getting to the point that a will is read and one child feels slighted can greatly enhance that anger and frustration. Some clients prefer to lay the cards on the table, so to speak, while they’re still living. Some feel as though they need to explain their decisions and some hope it might be a way to open a crucial conversation that can begin to heal. Every family’s different, however and while one family sees the importance of transparency, others feel the less they say, the better. It’s one less “no win” situation they will have to endure in this life.
As mentioned, one of the biggest “oh no” moments are those unexpected surprises that survivors would have never considered. Whether it’s poor planning for covering hefty estate taxes or the revelation that the deceased had a child with someone other than his or her spouse, these kinds of surprises can cause devastating and permanent damage. Again, it’s one of those times when you have to do some heavy soul searching. In the case of estate taxes and other expenses being too burdensome, some clients purchase life insurance policies for that sole reason so that loved ones aren’t left with a generous gift, but with overwhelming taxes staring at them.
We’ve seen it all – and in nearly every situation, there’s a solution to be found that a client had not considered. No one looks forward to these kinds of meetings with their estate planning lawyers, but it’s been our experience that our clients leave feeling far better about the state of their estate than they did when they arrived. To learn more, contact DeBruyckere Law Offices at (603) 894-4141 or (978) 969-0331.