Procrastination can mean estate-planning disaster
Dear Liz: My husband and I own all our assets as joint tenants. Because we have no children, we did not want to rush into making a will. But for the past few years, my husband’s older sister has been pressuring him to write a will benefiting her 60-year-old daughter.
His sister has gone so far as to ask my husband to send her a notarized list of all our assets, including bank accounts. He’s declined but she does not take “no” for an answer. He no longer communicates with her. It is our wish to benefit only the organizations and institutions that we already support. Although family members and relatives will not be named in the will, I wonder if his sister or anyone else can still try to claim an inheritance.
Answer: If you don’t stop procrastinating, everything you own may be inherited by that pushy sister-in-law. So get a move on.
Your jointly owned assets should pass to the other spouse when one of you dies, but when the survivor dies the property would be distributed according to your state’s laws if you don’t have a will or other estate plan. The laws of intestate succession typically put any children first in line, followed by parents. If you don’t have kids and your parents are dead, then siblings usually inherit.
People who would have inherited in the absence of a will typically have the “standing” or legal ability to challenge a will. Given your sister-in-law’s extreme sense of entitlement, you should count on her doing so. You should enlist an experienced attorney to help set up a will that can survive such a challenge.
You need a planner for personalized advice
Dear Liz: I have five questions. I have enclosed five sheets of paper with each question printed at the top. Please feel free to simply write your advice on each page, and then insert them into the addressed and stamped envelope I have enclosed. This is my attempt to make it easy for you to respond.
Answer: Thank you, but it’s not the lack of paper or a stamp that prevents columnists from replying to private inquiries. Questions of general interest may be answered here, but you’ll need to seek out a financial advisor for personalized advice.
You have many options for finding fiduciary, fee-only advisors. Fee-only advisors accept fees only from clients rather than accepting commissions or other compensation based on products the advisors recommend. Fiduciaries are advisors who promise to put clients’ best interests first. The following organizations can connect you to fee-only advisors who are fiduciaries:
—The National Assn. of Personal Financial Advisors. NAPFA advisors must be certified financial planners (CFPs). Many NAPFA planners charge a percentage of the assets they manage (called an “assets under management” or AUM fee) and have minimum asset requirements, although some charge hourly or retainer fees. A typical fee is around 1% of assets under management.
—XY Planning Network. Advisors must be CFPs and offer the option of flat monthly fees, although they may offer other arrangements including hourly or AUM fees. Monthly fees are typically $100 to $200, with some planners charging an initial fee of $1,000 to $2,000.
—The Garrett Planning Network. Planners must be CFPs or on track to get the designation, or CPAs who have the personal financial specialist (PFS) credential. Hourly fees usually range from $150 to $300.
—Assn. for Financial Counseling and Planning Education. This group offers two credentials for advisors: accredited financial counselor (AFC) and financial fitness coach (FFC). Both focus on helping middle- and lower-income people get a handle on the basics, including budgeting, debt management and retirement planning. Counselors work with clients in financial crisis or who need help with spending plans, eliminating debt, building savings and improving financial stability, said Rebecca Wiggins, the association’s executive director. Coaches focus more on helping clients understand how effective money management can help them achieve life goals, with a focus on changing financial behavior using goal setting, accountability and monitoring, Wiggins says. Many counselors and coaches work for the military, credit unions or other organizations and offer their services free or at reduced cost. Coaches and counselors who have private practices typically charge $100 to $150, but many work on a sliding scale.
Liz Weston, certified financial planner, is a personal finance columnist for NerdWallet. Questions may be sent to her at 3940 Laurel Canyon, No. 238, Studio City, CA 91604, or by using the “Contact” form at asklizweston.com. Distributed by No More Red Inc.
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