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Beacon Senior News

Navigating transitions: Write a Will

Mar 02, 2020 02:57PM ● By Cloie Sandlin

March is Write a Will Month

All good things must come to an end, and if you’re really a good person, you don’t want to leave a big legal mess for your family to deal with after you die.

That’s why having a will is important. While no one wants to think about their mortality, taking the time to prepare a well-written document that specifies how you would like your assets to be distributed after you die is a huge relief for your loved ones.

There’s no magic age for a will because none of us has a crystal ball to know when ours will be needed,” said Kellianne Chamberlain, a Grand Junction attorney with Hoskin, Farina and Kampf.

Chamberlain joins Marsha Harbert, senior trust officer at Two Rivers Trust in Grand Junction, and other local experts in presenting at the fourth annual Write a Will Month seminars at the Mesa County Libraries in March. These free, no-obligation seminars provide an overview of estate-planning basics as well as what you need for medical powers of attorney, living wills and trusts.

Chamberlain and Harbert shared these key takeaways to consider when writing your will:

Hire a local attorney to help draft your will.

While websites tout free templates and paid software to help you write your will, there is no substitute for the peace of mind that comes with hiring a local attorney to make sure your wishes are reflected clearly in your estate plans and are carried out after you die.

“Too many times folks believe a will is just a fill-in-the-blank exercise,” said Chamberlain. “The problem with handwritten or template wills, however, is that they are most often incomplete, vague or otherwise do not result in what the family later tells me the person wanted. They also often require more proof to be admitted to probate.”

A local attorney knows the laws in your state and can help update your will as your circumstances or wishes change. They can also help with other estate-planning needs, such as medical and financial powers of attorney.

Harbert added that it’s important to mirror your intent in all of your estate-planning documents and align all your assets (house, retirement account, investments, etc.) with your wishes.

“Make sure your assets are titled correctly,” she said.

Update your will every 3-5 years.

“I advise folks to take a look at the document every few years to make sure it still says what they want, and to be sure to reach out to their attorney if there has been or will be a significant life change, such as a death in the family or a new marriage,” Chamberlain said.

Failing to update your will can be problematic, especially when there’s been a major life event. If you get a divorce then remarry, do you want your ex-husband to still be your beneficiary?

Store your will in a safe place.

“We advise folks to store their wills in a safe place, and we keep a copy as well,” said Chamberlain. “Some counties allow you to pre-file with the court, but that is not necessary and most often not advisable because you may change your mind and write a new will in the future.”

Don’t forget your favorite charities.

You can continue your charitable giving to the charities you’ve favored during your lifetime with a final gift in your will that will be part of your legacy.

Harbert said retirement accounts, real estate and beneficiary deeds are all wonderful ways to give to nonprofits.

“People might give $50 to their church every month, but if they were to give 5 percent of the value of their house, their kids might not miss it, but it’s a pretty good-size contribution to a local nonprofit,” said Harbert.

When to consider a trust:

1) If you own property in multiple states.

“Real estate has to be probated, so if you have property in Florida, California and Arizona in addition to living in Colorado, you have probate in every one of those states. Trusts bypass probate and don’t have to be probated,” said Harbert.

2) If you have a blended family.

“A husband and wife have children from a previous marriage. He wants to take care of his current wife, but then when he passes away, he wants to take care of his kids but not her kids necessarily. The only way to do that is to set up those assets in a trust so that during his wife’s lifetime, that money will be used for her care but when she passes, his money can go to his kids and hers to her kids. It also helps to make sure there’s communication upfront before one of the parents passes away,” said Harbert

3) If you have children you’re concerned about.

Maybe you have a child that can’t manage money. A trust can help. “The trustee is like the gatekeeper that can help them with budgeting and financial planning,” said Harbert. “They have to come to us for requests with documentation. It’s not like they get a big pot of money deposited into their checking account.”

4) If one or more of your beneficiaries are on government benefits.

If a beneficiary receives government benefits (such as Social Security or Medicaid) inheriting money (the exemption is $2,000) could jeopardize their benefits. In such circumstances, a special needs trust can help.

Learn more during Write A Will Month

These free write a will sessions take place at the Mesa County Libraries-Central Branch, 443 N. Sixth St. in Grand Junction. Register online for your preferred session at www.mesacountylibraries.org/events or call 243-4442. Registration required. Limited space is available.

Register Today!