What is the use of living if it be not to strive for noble causes and to make this muddled world a better place for those who will live in it after we are gone?
- Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill, known for his eloquence, said these words more than half a century ago, yet his wisdom feels even more profound today.
NBP is headquartered in New England, and in a recent survey New Englanders surprisingly ranked last among all regions of the country when it came to having a will. According to LegalZoom.com, more than 78% admitted having no will.
Are you one of the 78%? Perhaps you have been thinking about how you can make the world a better place for family, for friends, and for those organizations that continue the good work of improving this muddled world. Perhaps you have already experienced how a bequest can change a life. And, perhaps, you have even been considering how a gift made under your will could benefit others by benefiting a charity that embraces the values you have held close throughout your life.
To write a will is to make a profoundly personal statement of what matters most to you. To write a will is to make known publicly that you have thoughtfully, carefully, determined your legacy to those close to you and to those served by the non-profits in whose mission you believe.
When should you write or re-write your will?
- When you marry, divorce or become widowed,
- Upon the birth or death of family members whom you would consider heirs,
- If the value of your assets changes in some significant way,
- If you need to change the executor of your current will,
- When the needs your current will addresses are no longer necessary, e.g., the care of a minor child,
- When you wish to provide for a charity's endowment, capital needs or current operations but prefer to do so in your estate plans,
- If you would like to change your provisions for your heirs to take into account the needs of specific individuals,
- When federal and/or state laws change regarding either taxes or inheritance.
As you do so you will want to remember a few key points:
Deborah Blackmore Abrams
- First, and foremost, it is always wise to seek the guidance of qualified counsel. Many sources are available but you will want to use the services of someone well-qualified in the area of estate taxes. In other words, the lawyer who helped you sell your home may not be the best-qualified when it comes to thinking about how your estate will be distributed. Ask friends and associates for referrals, seek names from resources such as your local bank or contact your state or city bar association.
- For individuals with children, make the naming of a guardian your highest priority. It is somewhat shocking to learn from the survey mentioned above that almost 75% of parents with small children stated that they had no will.
- Inventory all your assets, noting date and value at acquisition as well as current value. All too often individuals who feel that the value of their assets does not warrant a will are surprised to learn otherwise. Don't forget to list insurance policies in addition to the traditional assets of real property, stocks, bonds and tangible personal property, such as jewelry, artwork or collections. Additionally, you will want to be sure that mementoes or heirlooms are noted and passed on in ways that reflect the love and care that you have shown.
- Make a list of those family and friends for whom you would wish to make financial provisions
- With the assistance of counsel determine whether the use of trusts or annuities might be a better way to provide for the unique needs of some of your named heirs, such as continued care for adult children with disabilities, educational funds for grandchildren, or supplemental retirement income for siblings.
- Contact the charities that you want to remember in your will to insure accuracy in name as well as location. Many charities operate under similar names. You will want to be sure that those you care for receive your support. Likewise, be aware that many national organizations have local chapters. A quick telephone call can best inform you as to how you can remember the charities of your choice as you consider your legacy. Chances are, they can provide you and your lawyer with the specific language you will need.
- Finally, recognize that if you should die without a will the law will decide how your assets will be distributed among your heirs - and to the government. Good planning will preserve your assets for those you love and minimize, through good tax planning, what the government is entitled to receive.