The Investment Scientist

Why you need to do estate planning

Posted on: August 20, 2012

Judge’s gavel

Why do I need an expensive lawyer to do estate planning for me? Why can’t I just write my will on a piece of paper with two people as witnesses?

This is a question I got from a woman who owns 11 properties in 5 different states. Here is how I explained it to her.

It’s a bad idea to write your own will. Each state has its own descent and distribution law that governs the distribution of the estate of the deceased.

Each state law has its own set of terminology, forms, and requirements. If you are using the wrong terminology or missing a requirement, your will may be invalid in the view of the state court.

If your will is invalid, you die intestate and your estate will be distributed according to state law, not according to your will.

For those of you who have assets in multiple states, it’s even trickier. A will written under Maryland state law may not be valid in Florida. You literally need to have one will for each state in which you have assets.

The court process of estate distribution is called probate; it’s done in state court and it has various hassles and expenses. If you have assets in multiple states, your heirs will have to go through the probate process of each state.  Just imagine your children living in Maryland having to go to court in California, Florida, New York, and Nevada. Regardless of the size of their inheritance, they are not going to be happy about that.

That’s why you want to do estate planning before you die. A lawyer can help you set up a trust to bypass the probate process.

Get my white paper: The Informed Investor: 5 Key Concepts for Financial Success.

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Author

Michael Zhuang is principal of MZ Capital, a fee-only independent advisory firm based in Washington, DC. He is also a regular contributor to Morningstar Advisor and Physicians Practice. To explore a long-term wealth advisory relationship, schedule a discovery meeting (phone call) with him.



You may also get his monthly newsletter, or join his Facebook page for regular wealth management insights. Michael's email is info[at]mzcap.com.

Twitter: @mzhuang

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