When it comes to wills, there’s one thing for certain: you won’t be around when yours is read! One way to avoid unintended consequences for your surviving loved ones is to make the best thought-out last will and testament or trust that you can.
“I tell folks that I think they do a service to their family when they do estate planning,” Kimberly Vining, an attorney at Depew & Gillen in Wichita, Kan., said. “It potentially makes their family’s lives easier and simpler, whether that’s with a will or trust or other method.”
For many people, the process starts with a visit to a lawyer. Vining’s first step is to sit down with her client, learn all the important facts of their situation and how they wish their assets to be taken care of after death. “You get to know the client, what their concerns are and what’s driving them to see you,” Vining, who’s been in practice 11 years, said. “When I know what their situation is and what their goals are, I draw up a draft of their document, send it to them and answer any further questions. It’s their plan so you want to make sure they understand it. That’s important before signing it.”
Vining said a number of factors prompt people to make wills or trusts. It may be the birth of a child to a young couple who want to name a guardian in case the worst should happen. It may be someone who owns a business and wants to make sure its assets are looked after in a similar situation. Often, it’s someone whose parent has died and who has been through the experience — good or bad — of seeing that parent’s estate settled. “They’ll say ‘That worked well’ or ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t want my kids to go through that,'” Vining said. “A lot of times the kids maybe never had a conversation with mom or dad about what they owned.”
When people have complex business interests, out-of-state property, a blended family or family members with special needs, the need for a will or trust becomes even more critical.
Vining has seen both sides of the equation. In addition to writing wills and trusts for clients, she helps administer estates. “Working on the administration side really allows me to see the value of it,” she said. “You see how things play out.”
Online will services exist, but if a person has any questions about the process, it’s certainly more reassuring to deal with a professional trained and experienced in the law than a simple online FAQ. “I think that’s a huge disadvantage, not getting questions answered, or not knowing which questions to ask,” Vining said. “To me, one of the most critical components is the education side of it.” By law, online will services contain disclaimers that they cannot offer legal advice. And while those online services offer fill-in-the-blank forms, Vining notes that estate planning is “not one size fits all.”
Even riskier is the decision — and it is a decision — to make no will at all, which leaves your assets to be disposed of according to the dictates of state law. “Some people think estate planning is only for the wealthy,” Vining said. She assures them it is not.
Vining urges people who want to make a will or trust to ask friends and family if they can recommend a lawyer. “A referral is a good way if they’ve had a positive experience. Do your homework and find a lawyer who has that knowledge and experience.”
Kim Vining, Attorney
December 16, 2016