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Financial Literacy - Planning for your heirs
The will paradox
Three-quarters of Americans say everyone should have a will, but more than half don't have one.
Planning for your heirs

Americans' words and deeds about wills at odds

He explains that, barring familial infighting, if the family members play nice and divvy things up unequally, they may be subject to gift tax laws. "So, the heirs may well need to retain the professional advisers that the decedent had attempted to avoid."

"Hm-mm-mm. Stupidity to the max again," is Orman's ruling on letting the family figure it out. "I've sat with families and watched what happens after a parent or somebody dies. That is not what you want to do to your children or those that you love. Ridiculous."

What's the rush?
The last thing people want to rush toward is death -- and maybe even thoughts of it. And for those without a will, one of the big hindrances seems to be lack of urgency: 63 percent either haven't gotten around to it (38 percent) or don't feel they need one any time soon (25 percent).

I'm here to tell you nobody thinks anything is going to happen to them, but you better plan as if it does.

Jones says responses from the 18 to 24 age group may skew the results a bit. "Fifty-four percent of this group said they would not need a will anytime soon. They may be correct. Until they marry and own a home, most of their assets can pass by contract or beneficiary designation. And, if they don't have a will for their probate assets, they may be OK with the state's intestate laws, which usually make their parents the beneficiary if they die without a spouse or children."

Men are more likely than women to say they don't need a will anytime soon (33 percent versus 20 percent); overall, a quarter of respondents feel this way.

Orman finds fault with such a cavalier attitude. "Who are you to think that something isn't going to happen to you?" she asks. "I'm here to tell you nobody thinks they're going to get sick, nobody thinks they're going to break a leg, nobody thinks anything is going to happen to them. But you better plan as if it does."

Size of assets doesn't matter
While 17 percent don't feel they have enough assets to warrant having a will, that shouldn't prevent people from getting one.

Kurlowicz says that even smaller estates have a high percentage of disgruntled heirs. Drawing on his experience as an estate planning attorney, he says, "When there is not as much to split up, the stakes are surprisingly higher in the minds of the beneficiaries. For example, in a middle class family with a home and a pension, many heirs in this situation will not often have the opportunity to see a five- or six-figure check made out to them. The inheritance may be their only shot at this brass ring. They will take it very seriously, along with dividing up valuable jewelry or other items."

-- Posted: Nov. 19, 2007
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