The Banker and the Lawyer

by Jeff C. Johnson

Last will and testament

Recently, I learned the sad story of two men. Both knew better but died without making proper end-of-life arrangements. One had not updated his will and trust documents for many years, but his life had changed, his beneficiaries were much different, and his goals were not at all the same as they were a couple of decades earlier.

The other had no will at all. Despite a successful professional career and the accumulation of significant assets, he had never had a will prepared for himself. His assets would be distributed according to the laws of intestacy in the state where he lived. In other words, state law determined who gets what.

Both of these professionals, a banker and a lawyer, died suddenly with cherished loved ones left not only alone but also nearly homeless and in a very, very difficult financial situation. They are very sad stories with nothing that can be done unless the named heirs decide to share the inheritance.

Outdated wills and trusts, or no wills or end-of-life documents, are common problems, believe it or not. Close behind are unsigned documents. As I search my memory, I can recall many clients that had delayed signing documents, thinking there were a few alterations needed.

Then I remembered the unsigned trust document on my own desk! Yikes! Recently divorced, I had an updated document prepared. After several readings, I set it aside, then left town for a series of meetings. I had debated about changes that I might want to make but hadn’t decided for sure. Months had gone by. It is easy to see how it happens, but the results can be disastrous.

I realized that my document wasn’t perfect, but I signed it in front of a notary public and sent copies to my beneficiaries and my lawyer. I can change it anytime at a later date and probably will make changes as my family and heirs change (and expand) and my financial circumstances evolve.

A percentage of the readers of this short post need to get a will or need to update a previously written will. The first step, in my view, is to find a lawyer with experience in wealth-transfer planning, then call for an appointment. In my book, The Eight Points of Financial Confidence, I suggest ways you can find a “right-fit” lawyer for yourself.