"I leave nothing to my two sisters . . . as they revered Franklin D. Roosevelt and the taxes caused by him more than equaled their share." -- Adolph J. Heimbeck, 1968; from "Where There's a Will," Farnsworth Publishing
You're never too young to have a will, and dying without one can have unfortunate consequences.
Abraham Lincoln, a lawyer as well as president of the United States, for example, died without leaving one (as do 7 out of 10 Americans). Lincoln's estate was divided among his widow and two sons -- an equal if not necessarily fair distribution since one son was grown and doing well and the other was only 12 years old.
Having a legally executed will basically is the only way to ensure your wishes will be carried out after your death.
You know you can't take it with you and that a properly executed will can assure that your property will be divided the way you want. But what if your assets are few?
Your estate, the experts say, doesn't have to include a mansion, yacht and chauffeur-driven limo to benefit. Anyone with any possessions -- bank account, car, clothing, home--has an estate worthy of a will.
When a person dies:
1. The value of the estate is determined.
2. Funeral expenses and other debts are paid.
3. Money owed the deceased is collected.
4. Inheritance and estate taxes are paid.
5. What is left is distributed according to the dictates of the deceased's will or,
6. If he left none (referred to as dying intestate), the state in which he lived distributes the estate according to its own particular formula, the deceased's wishes notwithstanding.
If he also owned property in other states, distribution of those assets would be governed by the intestacy laws of those states.
Even where the simplest inheritances are involved, you should have a will. Especially, experts say, if you own property or have children.
In the event both parents die intestate (and without naming guardians of minor children), nasty legal battles for custody between grandparents and other kin could ensue. Also, it is possible the courts could name the children wards of the state.
Shortest will: "All to wife." -- Karl Tausch, 1967; "Guinness Book of Records," Bantam Books
Wills can deal with much more than distribution of your assets. Among other things, they may be used to:
* Minimize death taxes and probate costs.
* Appoint the executor of your estate.
* Appoint guardians for your minor children.
* Establish trusts for the protection and management of property you are leaving your children, until they are mature enough to manage it themselves.
* Where applicable, help your survivors run the family business with a minimum of red tape during the probate period.
Longest will: four bound volumes, 95,940 words. Frederica Cook, early 20th century; from "Guinness Book of Records."
Estate planners and experts say it's a wise idea to have an attorney prepare your will. Lawyers' fees for such services range from as little as about $35 for simple wills to hundreds and even thousands of dollars for wills and trusts dealing with complex estates.
If you have no relatives, you still might want to have a will for dividing your estate among charities, friends, educational institutions or others.
Distribution of assets by means other than a will are possible through such things as joint tenancy or ownership (often called the "poor man's will"), lifetime trusts, gifts and annuities. The tax consequences of such arrangements vary, however, and that is one reason they should be checked with an attorney or financial planner.
"To my wife, I leave her lover, and the knowledge that I wasn't the fool she thought I was. To my son I leave the pleasure of earning a living. For 25 years he thought the pleasure was mine. He was mistaken." -- Philadelphia industrialist, 1947; from "Where There's a Will."
Adult children first, then second spouses and siblings of the deceased are the most likely to engage in inheritance battles, according to Prof. Paul Rosenblatt of the University of Minnesota. Having a medical checkup (and being found physically and mentally sound) before executing your will could help avoid a will "contest."
Financial planner Alexandra Armstrong, in Planning Ahead, a monthly review of financial news and ideas, points out you also can help "contest-proof" your will by including in it a stipulation that "any beneficiary who contests it must forfeit his legacy if he is unsuccessful."
A Beverly Hills multimillionairess who died in 1977, named her brother-in-law executor of her estate. Her will also made him the major beneficiary of her estate, provided he have her buried "next to my husband in my lace nightgown and in my Ferrari with the seat slanted comfortably. If a coffin is used other than for shipping, he is disinherited except for $10,000."
She was buried according to her wishes.