Buying a Will is Not like Buying a Toaster

I often get this asked this question:  “My wife and I need Wills and other documents.  How much does it cost and can you draft them quickly so we can just come in and sign?”

Part of my job is to explain to clients that estate planning is not a product. Buying estate planning is not akin to buying a toaster.  You can walk into virtually any department store and pretty  much any toaster will do.  You don’t have to put a lot of thought into it.  They all pretty much function the same way.  There won’t be huge variances in quality from one brand to the next.  Simple. On the other hand, every estate plan is different, because every family situation is different. Everyone’s assets are different, and everyone’s goals, objectives, worries and fears are different.  No two estate plans are the same.

Another obvious question clients ask is how much will estate planning cost?  My best answer to how much it costs is usually this: “More than you want to spend, less than it is worth.”  The types of documents and planning you require may be different from the next person, which will also impact the cost.

Once a client has signed their Will and other estate planning documents, there is a next step.  Most clients then must change the beneficiaries of their retirement assets and their life insurance policies.  Most clients must change the title of their other assets.  This is done to make sure that the Will (and other documents) actually work.

If my Will says to leave all of my assets to my son, but my beneficiary designations say that my ex-wife is the beneficiary, and my other assets are joint with my sister (because my son is a minor or my son has special needs or my son has other life problems, like drug or alcohol addiction), then, if (and when) I die, my ex-wife gets my life insurance and retirement assets, my sister gets my other assets (to use them when she wants and to give them to who she wants when she dies), and my son gets nothing.

Good estate planning is a frank and open discussion about family, about whether a spouse will remarry or enter a nursing home, about whether the clients can be scammed or taken advantage as they age (or after one dies), about whether a heir can handle money or has a problem or issue (like drug addiction, special needs, difficulty managing money), about whether there is charitable intent, and if so, what is the most tax efficient way to plan for it, about whether an inheritance should be protected in case of a lawsuit, creditor, bad marriage, nursing home costs or future estate taxes, about anything else that bothers someone.

Investing in an estate plan is NOT like buying a toaster.  Not any old estate planning document will do the trick.  Mistakes can be costly and irreversible.