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Will Power – Plan Your Estate Wisely


You are retired. You live comfortably. Sure, no one would say you are rich, but you have more than you need; and whatever assets you may have left once you are gone, you’d like to leave to your children. Maybe some to the grand kids.

Do folks like you…need a will?

Yes, I believe you do.

First, let me offer a very clear disclaimer. I am a financial planner, not an attorney. So anything I say is simply my understanding of the law and should not be considered legal advice. For legal advice, see an attorney.

Secondly, if you have wills, make sure they are valid.

I’ve had Louisiana residents show me wills they’ve typed up on their own or using an online service. No lawyers, no legal bills, right?

The only problem is that the wills they so carefully typed up could indeed be put to use. They could be used to line a bird cage. Or the grand kids could use the backside to color on. Or sometimes old paper makes really nice mulch for a garden.

But the wills I saw would have been of no use as wills in Louisiana.

As I understand it, Louisiana recognizes two types of wills: the first is one drafted by an attorney, known as a notarial will. There are very specific requirements for a notarial will, including language, form, and very specific placement for signatures and dates.

The second kind of will recognized by Louisiana is called an olographic will. Other states refer to this kind as a holographic will. Somewhere along the way, we lost the “h.” An olographic will is handwritten by the person making out the will (known as the testator) and is signed and dated by the testator.

If you need a will – and almost anyone with assets does - may I suggest that you probably need more than just a will – you need an estate plan.

Your estate plan may very likely include a notarial will drafted by an attorney. A well drafted will allows you to avoid the one-size-fits-all rules that apply when you die without a will, allows you to make specific bequests to individuals, name your own executor

(rather than let the court do it) and even leave some assets to a trust, to be managed by a fiduciary trustee, rather than a family member who may not have that ability.

In addition to having wills drafted, there are other estate planning tools to discuss with your attorney – such as powers of attorney. And there are powers of attorney for business matters and powers of attorney for healthcare matters. These are two separate things.

And you need to remember that not everything that passes from one person to another does so through a will.

Retirement plans, IRAs, annuities and life insurance all have beneficiary designations. Such beneficiary designations determine who gets those assets once their owner dies. I’ve seen more than one will that tried to leave a retirement plan or a life insurance policy to this heir or that.

No go. You’ve got to properly coordinate your estate planning documents with your estate plan.

The reasons most often offered to me for not seeing an attorney to draft wills are convenience and cost. Neither is a very good reason.

If you’ve got assets you value that you want to leave to heirs that you love, do yourself a favor.

Call a lawyer.

Byron is a Certified Financial Planner and Managing Director of the Planning Group at Argent Advisors, Inc.
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