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Why NOW is always the right time to get your Will in place!

Time is a funny thing. We never have enough of it and we always think we have more. When my beloved stepdad died suddenly and unexpectedly, I was on a plane home within hours. On the flight, I remember thinking how that’s it; that is his whole story; from beginning to end. Everything he will do has been done, everything he will say, has been said. Time has taught me, though, that isn’t the whole story, because the way your family and loved ones will grieve and carry on is also part of that story. Part of your story. And that’s why we often call Wills and estate planning creating a legacy. It’s not just about money and material possessions, it’s truly about what your family and loved ones will have to go through when you’re gone.

I share this story with you to help you understand that I take this planning very personally. And why I try to put myself in the shoes of our clients. How would I want to be treated? Or more important yet, how would I want my mom to be treated? Because it certainly wasn’t easy picking up the pieces and sorting through everything when my dad died.

So why do so many people put off this planning? There are so many reasons, but in my experience it boils down to three big ones: 1. You’re unsure of what decisions to make, 2. You’re waiting for future life events, and 3. You think you have more time.

SO first you may be unsure of your decisions. I get it. It’s hard to pick who would raise your kids or handle your money, and maybe your choices aren’t the best. But don’t let perfection be the enemy of good. ANYTHING is better than the nothing you have now. Once you have a Will and a plan in place, you can always make tweaks and adjustments. But don’t leave it up to the state to make these choices for you.

Another common reason people put this off is they are waiting for future life events, such as moving, having more kids, getting married. Maybe in that order. But the only constant is change, so while you may be waiting, in the meantime, if something unexpected happens, you have no plan, not even a temporary one, to make things easier for your loved ones. This can always be adjusted and changed with your circumstances. And you actually can build in a lot of contingencies into your legal planning.

But the biggest reason people put off getting a Will in place is just plain ol’ procrastination. And that, truly, is just about setting priorities and where you CHOOSE to spend your time and money.

So what are you filling your time with instead? What are you spending your money on instead of this investment? And what is an investment? It’s putting something in to get a lot more out. And I promise you, the time you put in to get your Will in place, and the money you invest to do it right with an attorney, will save tons more time and money when they need it most. And frankly, we just don’t know when that’s going to be. Recently, we had three clients die in a matter of a few weeks before they even had time to sign their Wills.

In the end, how we choose to spend our time, how we choose to spend our money, shows what we truly value.

Now, I know VERY PERSONALLY, that these are very difficult decisions to make and I don’t take that lightly. But the fact is too many people die without a Will and all it does is put your family in a bind of navigating the legal process, court delays, possible infighting, and unnecessary costs.

CHOOSE to get this off your to-do list NOW! Because no matter how much TIME you have left, the fact remains that each new day is one day closer to running out.

Your family deserves a better plan. You deserve a better legacy. What are YOU waiting for?

Because if you don’t have a Will, the state of Texas has one for you!

The Cost of NOT Having a Will

We’re often asked, understandably, how much does it cost to get a Will. But the real question SHOULD be what is the cost of NOT having a Will?

The cost of not having a Will boils down to three main problems: mo money, mo time, and no choices.

  1. Mo money: without a Will, your assets are likely to have to go through a probate court process called a determination of heirship where the court will appoint an attorney ad litem to research your heirs to report back to the court, and all your family members will have to agree to who can serve as the executor. Now you don’t have to understand what all that means, but does it sound cheap? NO! This can easily cost way over $5,000.
  2. The cost of NOT having a Will also means Mo time: Oh boy, where do I start here? With a Will, it typically only takes a few months to sort things out, even less with a living trust. Without a Will? You are looking at several months, if not years, to get everything sorted out, even for simple estates where there may just be a home and some bank accounts. AND the court not only requires the involvement of your family members, but it also requires that at least two of your friends, have to testify that they knew you, knew your marital history, your children, your assets, and your debts. Not the most convenient or quickest way just to make sure your house or bank accounts go to the right people.
  3. Finally, the biggest cost of NOT having a Will is you get no CHOICES! You know my saying: If you don’t have a Will, the State of Texas has one for you! The court will determine everything for you, how your assets are distributed, the guardians of your kids, who will oversee money for them if they are underage. And the only people the court can choose from is your relatives, which may not be your first choice AND also means they may be fighting over who will be in control.

Now, we understand what it’s like to be on a budget. But when it comes to who gets your home and money, who will take care of your kids, and who will ensure your legacy, you CAN’T AFFORD NOT to have a Will. This is one of the most important investments of your life. Let us help you understand the value by scheduling a complementary consultation.

And remember: if you don’t have a Will, the state of Texas has one for you!

How to choose a GREAT Wills & Trust Attorney

I know many struggle in knowing how to find the right Wills, Trusts, and Estate Planning Attorney for them. Here are a few suggestions when choosing a lawyer to write your Will and powers of attorney:

  1. Ask if estate planning is at least 50% of their practice. There are far too many attorneys who “dabble” with writing Wills and that causes attorneys like me and clients like you almost as many headaches as online forms. For example, our practice is about 98% estate planning and probate. That’s not saying an attorney needs to be “board certified” for this type of work. I’m not and most of my fellow Wills & Trusts lawyers are not, but you can always use that as a criteria.
  2. Ensure that they also practice probate. If they don’t know how Wills get interpreted by the court, then they have no business drafting these documents, in my opinion. I have become a lot better at drafting through understanding how various courts may interpret language and clauses.
  3. I would ask if they will guide you on how to make sure your beneficiaries of life insurance, retirement, and financial accounts are set up in a way that will work with your wishes. For example, you do not want to name a child under 18 as a beneficiary.
  4. Make sure you ask if they will help you with ensuring your documents get signed appropriately. If it’s not signed properly, it’s not valid. Texas requires you to sign in the physical presence of two witnesses. No exceptions, even though I’ve seen some “online notary services” provide witnesses who appear via video conference and that will not hold up in court. We have very strict guidelines on having people sign in our office or we provide detailed instructions and guidance on how to arrange themselves.
  5. Ensure they don’t just make you fill out a long form without explaining concepts and roles that you are assigning to people. I have some clients who do great with that, and for them, they can fill something out (see references to our new online Will app), but our typical client has an initial consultation where we walk them through everything.
  6. Find out the timing and process. They should be able to provide you drafts to review within a few weeks tops. Find out how quickly you can then get the drafts updated and/or signed. Many attorneys drag their feet and an unsigned Will is no Will at all.

I could go on and on about what I believe makes a GREAT Wills & Trust attorney, but these are some of the factors I would encourage you all to look into when you are making this important decision for yourself and your family.

14 Fun, Free Activities for You and Your Family to Enjoy During the Lockdown

OK, we’ve all been living La Vida Lockdown for about a month now. And maybe we have even managed to adjust to the lockdown lifestyle somewhat. But even if, like me, you are socially distant at the best of times, you may be experiencing some cabin fever. You’ve now read all of the previously unread books that were in your bookshelves, binge-watched as much Netflix as you can stand, and finally realized, like me,  that you are not going to use your surfeit of stay-at home time for cleaning, organizing, or exercising. So, what to do?

Memes. Covid-19 has really brought out the humor and creativity in people. I have lost many hours being entertained by memes. Some of my favorites are the Batman memes, and those involving kids and their parents trying to cope with school-from-home. You can Google some of the best ones, or just wait for them to cross your dash, or even better, if you are creative and have a good sense of humor, join the fun, and create and share your own.

Online Games. If you are a serious gamer and embrace the covid quarantine as perfect justification for staying in your room and playing games nonstop (finally, vindication!), you will never see this article. You were ahead of the curve. But if you haven’t done much gaming since you were in school, maybe you’re rediscovering the sims. If you have a shorter attention span (mea culpa), there are more traditional, but no less addictive, games online, like Sudoku, Set, and Solitaire.

Coloring Books. You finally have time to make use of all those interesting, grown-up coloring books you bought a few years ago. If you were able to resist that fad, did you know that plenty of the world’s museums offer free, downloadable coloring books? Not sure that’s really the best use of their budgetary resources, but there they are, nonetheless. Whether you prefer the art of ancient Greece, medieval stained-glass patterns, or botanicals, there are some superb designs to color.

Virtual tours. Avoid long lines, the TSA, delays, expense, and lost baggage. Take advantage of some of the virtual tours of top destinations, or just take a short trip using Google street view. You can even time travel, and see ancient Rome. Your virtual journey may just be the most pleasant travel experience you have ever enjoyed.

National Parks. You can’t get there in person right now, but thanks to these virtual experiences, you can enjoy the best of the great outdoors in the U.S. national parks without having to worry about mosquitos, weather, wild animals, or where to find a restroom.

Live Cams. If you are missing your spring trip to the zoo, lots of zoos, aquariums, and human wildlife offer live cams of their daily existence. So check out the baby tigers, naked mole rats, or impoverished students trying to earn a buck letting you share their daily lives. You can share an animal enclosure or a tiny apartment without violating any social distancing rules.

Museum Virtual Tours. Art, history, archeology, natural history: whatever your interest, it is probably there.

Dallas Arboretum Virtual Visits. The spring blooms are not to be missed, even if you can’t get there in person. When I worked there on the Paseo years ago, I know I was sometimes rained on, snowed on, and even got heatstroke once, but I remember it just as Sunny World, a beautiful place filled with families enjoying the garden installations, school kids on field trips shepherded their teachers, and groups of friends exploring all the 66 acres had to offer.

Concerts. Many arts organizations are providing their musical offerings for free, their performances going viral, so you don’t have to. NPR has a list of many of the classical concerts, and the Berlin Philharmonic, among many others, is providing free access to their performances while concert halls are closed. If classical music grates on your last nerve, rock, pop, electronic dance, and other types of artists are also livestreaming for us while we are stuck at home, possibly drinking one too many quarantinis. I’ve bookmarked the David Guetta livestream for charity to listen to later.

Audiobooks. Audible, for example, has a large collection of free audiobooks online right now to help get you through the coronapocalypse. I sampled the first book of the Harry Potter series, the Jungle Book, and Brave New World (seemed topical).

Public Libraries. The libraries have done an amazing job of stepping up with new ways of providing services while we’re all essentially under house arrest. You can stream or use curbside pickup. Check out your local library. They will get you a library card if you don’t have on yet.

Free Online Courses. For the more ambitious among us, there are all sorts of free online courses out there. Learn a language, study art, learn coding, or take a biochemistry course at an Ivy League university; the choice is yours.

Academic Journals. If you’re a knowledge junkie and love the minutiae of an intense discipline, the obscure discoveries in a difficult field, or just want to learn something about the latest research in virology, given that we’re in the midst of a pandemic, you can find it all at the MUSE site. Universities and research institutions around the world are making vast quantities of their information for available for free. But hurry, much of the free access seems to end by June 30th, or even before.

Pen Pals. If you remember the joy of receiving a letter from your pen pal in France or England during high school, you may want to seek a pen pal. You can find people all over the world to correspond with, either electronically or by snail mail, with the colorful stamps that provides for your collection. Brush up on your high school French, or just correspond in English (or Texan).

Fandom. If you’re a nerd and love this social distancing and isolation time as much as I do, you probably already know that there is no better time to read and write fanfiction and to play in the fictional worlds that we have come to love (and which are almost certainly better than the present one in which we find ourselves, and some of them are dystopian). I have been spending time at J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World, which  has launched a Harry Potter at home hub, where you can get your wizarding passport, learn to which Hogwarts house you belong, and receive your virtual magic wand. There are also free activities and a link to a free audiobook listening experience.

People have come together and responded in so many positive ways during the pandemic, so enjoy the opportunities for free experiences that are offered during lockdown. We may never have so much free access to knowledge, culture, and virtual activity again.

by Jen Green, Burch Law