I’M TOO EMBARRASSED to reveal how long it took my wife and me to prepare our wills. We knew this important task was near the top of almost every financial “to do” list—a list that, it seems, we’ve spent our adult lives slowly working our way through.
We’d discussed the details of our wills, including the crucial decision of who would care for our minor child in the event both of us died. Despite this,
I AM NOW AGE 78—the same age at which my father died 34 years ago. I’m starting to think about dying, though I have no immediate plans to do so.
Of course, my father effectively smoked himself to death, unleashing a combination of heart disease and emphysema. I’ve been a no-smoking zone my entire life. No, I’m not depressed and I’m not being maudlin. But if Queen Elizabeth can’t go on forever, what hope is there for us commoners?
THE WILLS, POWERS of attorney and advance directives drawn up for my wife and me were drafted according to the laws of another state—and were badly out-of-date.
For example, these various documents included guardianships for our then-young children, with a trust to make gradual payouts until they turned age 35. Both our children have since graduated college, become professionally employed and demonstrated they’re financially responsible.
Despite all that, I’m embarrassed to admit that we procrastinated over getting new wills.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN a person dies without a will and there isn’t enough money to pay all of his or her debts? Who gets paid and who gets shorted?
I’d always heard that funeral expenses were the first priority, and then unsecured creditors got everything else. I’ve recently learned from personal experience that the rules are more complex—and more generous to widows and widowers.
A 60-year-old friend of mine recently died. He hadn’t written a will.
RULES OF THUMB and conventional wisdom often serve us well. But we should make sure they’re truly applicable to our situation.
Like many parents, my wife and I prepared our first estate planning documents when our children were young. The estate planning lawyer suggested a so-called AB trust. If we’d taken his advice, when one of us passed away, half of our joint assets would have gone into an irrevocable trust. The surviving spouse would get the income from that trust,
WHEN IT COMES to estate planning, folks with taxable estates—that is, with assets in excess of $12 million—tend to fall into one of two camps. The first recognize that their estates will have to hand the IRS 40 cents out of every dollar above that $12 million threshold. They also know that this limit is scheduled to be cut in half in 2026 and could be even lower in the future. As a result,
WHEN PEOPLE DISCUSS financial matters or take the “A Year to Live” class that I lead, there’s a common refrain: They don’t want to be a burden to their loved ones. They’re concerned about having enough money to take care of themselves when they’re older.
But even if we have plenty of money, we can still end up being a burden. How so? Our kids and other loved ones don’t want the stuff we’ve gathered over the years.
IN THE EARLY 1990s, my employer—an aerospace manufacturer—sent a small group of employees to Winnipeg, Canada, to help set up a production line. We were chosen because of our familiarity with the product involved.
The company provided us with a furnished apartment, a rental car and $40 a day for food. They flew us back home every two weeks, so we could take care of personal business. I’d fly to Los Angeles on Friday and return to Winnipeg on Monday.
ROUGHLY A QUARTER of my investment portfolio sits in three Roth retirement accounts. Ever since I first funded a Roth a dozen years ago, I’ve thought of this as money I’d avoid spending for as long as possible, so I milk maximum gain from the tax-free growth. But lately, it’s dawned on me that it’s highly unlikely I’ll ever dip into these accounts—and that realization has triggered a slew of investment decisions.
My three Roth accounts are all at Vanguard Group.
THE SECURE ACT, which took effect Jan. 1, 2020, made inheriting an IRA even more complicated. Before 2020, beneficiaries typically had the option of taking distributions from an inherited IRA over their lifetime, potentially squeezing many more years of tax-favored growth from these accounts.
The SECURE Act drew a new line, eliminating some beneficiaries’ ability to make use of the so-called stretch IRA. Beneficiaries now are divided into two groups. Some have to empty an inherited IRA within 10 years of the original owner’s death.
SOMEONE I KNOW recently learned she has a rare cancer that’s already at stage four. She’s getting treated for the cancer, as well as for various complications. I’m not surprised she’s battling the disease. She’s strong, independent and driven.
What is surprising? She’s never written a will, and must now deal with that along with a serious medical issue. Moreover, among her three adult children, one still lives at home—and has a child of her own.
A FRIEND WAS RECENTLY asked by his father to be executor of his estate—and, without hesitation, my friend agreed. But then the conversation quickly moved on to other topics, leaving my friend confused about his role.
My suggestion to my friend: Have another conversation with your dad—and ask these four questions:
What are your expectations? Someone who creates a will is known as a testator. The primary role of an executor is to settle the testator’s estate.
LIFE IS EXPENSIVE—especially for young adults contending with budget busters like housing and tuition. If you have adult children facing these expenses and want to help them financially, you may be wondering what’s the best approach. While every family is different, below are three principles that I’ve seen work well.
1. Transparency. This applies in several ways. First, you should let your children know your objectives for these gifts. Do you want to see them spend it on something specific—such as a home down payment—or are they free to use it as they see fit?
SIX YEARS AGO, a colleague came into my office, looking concerned. He asked if I could speak with a client who was suffering from dementia. At the time, I was the Army’s attorney in charge of legal assistance at Fort Hood, Texas. One of the services we provided was drafting wills for servicemembers, veterans and their families.
For our legal office, my policy was that I’d always be the person to deliver bad news.
WANT THE LAST WORD? Write your own obituary.
It’s the final opportunity to tell the world you were a great person and that others should regret never having known you. You can write what you want because, in most newspapers, the obituaries are essentially paid ads—and pricey, to boot. No one is going to challenge your obituary’s veracity, at least not publicly, unless it’s outrageous.
Was she really well liked by everyone she met?