Where there’s a will, there’s a way to make things easier for others when you die

Published 6:53 am Wednesday, October 26, 2022

A recent survey from AARP found that two out of five Americans over the age of 45 do not have a will. Even fewer have an estate plan, according to the online CNBC article, 67 percent of Americans have no estate plan.”

Last week was National Estate Planning Awareness Week, a reminder that when a person dies without a will, assets are distributed according to state laws. While it may seem like a daunting and even morbid task to plan what happens after death, it can have benefits such as peace of mind, making assets available for medical, funeral or other outstanding bills.

“Every day should be estate planning day,” SWLA Law Center Executive Director/General Counsel Mark Judson said. “The only person who needs to worry about a will is the person who is going to die.”

“An estate plan is a comprehensive and complete way to prepare yourself, your assets and your loved ones for the future,” said Patrick Hicks, head of legal at Trust & Will, an online estate planning and settlement firm.

It’s not just for the rich or the aging retiree.

“In my opinion, it’s very important for young people with minor children to have wills,” said Catherine Fastabend, of Robichaux, Mize, Wadack, Richardson & Watson in Lake Charles.

“If they inherit half the house and dad wants to refinance, these two kids can’t sign documents with the bank,” she said.

Wills allow heirs to act with the decedent’s wishes in mind. It can help ensure that assets and possessions will end up in the right hands, generally speaking.

Not all wills can be considered valid, Fastabend said.

She recently had to consider one invalid because the witnesses had signed, but not the person for whom the will was created.

Judson said that in Louisiana, the olographic will — others states refer to a handwritten will as holographic — can be a legitimate document, if it is executed correctly.

“Wills must be precise to form,” he said. “The reason is, wills and donations are the only time anyone gets anything for free. These are the most litigated instruments. Anything else can be between the ditches.”

Wills can attend to final burial arrangements and tutorship of minor children, for instance, Judson said.

Fastabend said just because a person leaves behind a will, it does not necessarily mean a succession won’t be necessary, and it is important that a succession is done correctly. Some are not. In some cases, it might not be necessary to carry out a succession when the deceased person’s assets are valued at $125,000 or less.

Louisiana laws regarding the transfer of property to heirs at death are different from many other state’s depending on whether property is separate or community property and the relationship of the survivor to the deceased.

“If a person is clear and in agreement with those laws, it might not be necessary for him or her to have a will,” Fastabend said. “The will comes in handy if you don’t like the default rules.”

A Succession transfers ownership of property from the deceased to those who will inherit after debts are paid.

Judson estimated the cost of a will as ranging from $500 for a simple will to $3,000 or more for more complex estate planning.

Editor’s note: This article is not meant as legal advice. For that, it is important to consult an attorney. This article’s purpose is to explain that laws differ from Louisiana and other states and to list the benefits of having a plan in place.