Take Jerry Seinfeld’s Estate Planning Advice

I did not interview Jerry Seinfeld for this article. But I can share with you what he taught me.

I was watching Jerry, the all-star comedian, on television.  The program host on an entertainment show asked celebrities about their New Year resolutions. Jerry’s answer was short. It was most appropriate. I am paraphrasing his answer.

“If something needs to be addressed,” Jerry said, “I address it right away. I don’t wait for the New Year to do it.”

This is great advice to apply to your estate planning. Let me tell you why.

Many people never find the time to make a will. They may think it is a chore like cleaning the garage or going to the dentist. However, making a will is the corner stone of your estate plan. Think of it as something you prepare for the people you leave behind.

Let me tell you about Beth. She became a victim because her partner Steven died suddenly at the early age of 54. No one, least of all Steven, expected that to happen. Steven never made a will. He always had it on his “I’ll get to it someday list.”

Almost every week I advise people like Beth. Someone close to them or a family member has died unexpectedly without a will or estate plan.

In Beth’s case, she learned the tragic consequences when Steven died without a will. She now had inherited all of Steven’s family and financial problems.

What is normal?

Normally, a surviving spouse needs time to deal with grief and financial issues. With a will, Beth could wrap up or settle Steven’s estate in six months to a year. In many cases, she would not hire a lawyer. No one needs to go to court.

But that did not happen here to Beth. Steven had no plan and no will for her.

Beth was a common law spouse who struggled with Steven’s adult children. She had trouble paying bills. She ran out of patience and money. The stepchildren wanted to know why Beth did not sell their father’s home. They wanted their inheritance. They saw a sale of the house as the quickest way to get it.

Beth and her bad news

I had to give Beth the bad news.

Since Steven had no will, his estate work will take longer. That means more delays and increased costs. It may take 2-3 years or more to wind up his intestate estate.

I had to ask Beth if she could afford to pay the mortgage, insurance and property taxes on the house. If not, how was she going to continue living there?

“Beth, you may need to go to court for financial assistance to pay bills. Steven’s children do not want you to use their father’s money to live in his house. They want you to move out so they can sell it. They do not trust you to do that.”

Beth wanted to know if she could use Steven’s money to pay bills.

“Steven does not have a will. He has no estate executor to handle his affairs. You need to agree with his children who will handle the estate. Since no one is named as Steven’s executor, the court must appoint one. Until someone is appointed you cannot access Steven’s investment accounts.”

I explained that the children and the ex-wife will each hire lawyers. They will all want a piece of Steven’s estate. Even if everyone agrees this could triple the legal costs. There could be a lawyer for each of the 2 children, the ex-wife and for Beth.

Not everyone may then agree. They could argue about who should be in charge of the estate. The legal costs would then increase tenfold. Instead of $10,000, each lawyer could cost the estate $40,000 in extra legal costs. You could see this number multiplied 10 times if everyone went to court more than once.

Who pays for Steven’s failures?

Everyone suffers differently because of estate delays.

And who pays for the legal trouble?

The court would say Steven created these legal problems. He failed to make a will and name an executor. Steven’s estate will bear the legal costs because he did not have an estate plan.

You do not have to be rich

Estate planning is preparation. Everyone needs to prepare for the inevitable.  You have to prepare a plan for the people you leave behind.

Make sure you get legal advice to make the right choices.

Don’t wait for next year to make a will.

The problems Steven created can take years and cost a fortune to resolve.

If you love your family, take Jerry Seinfeld’s advice.

Don’t wait to make your will. Do it now!

Edward Olkovich (BA, LLB, TEP, and C.S.) is an Ontario lawyer, nationally recognized author and estate expert. He is a Toronto-based Certified Specialist in Estates and Trusts Law. Ed’s law firm website is MrWills.com © 2014

Every Estate Plan Needs One

Making your will is the foundation for all estate planning. You may think making a will is not important. But your loved ones certainly suffer if you don’t have a will. Let’s look at some tricks and truths about making your will.

Perhaps you haven’t made your will because you are:

  • confused by all your options;
  • need more information to make better decisions; and
  • do not know how to ask for help.

Let’s clear some of these things up. Postponing making a will does not make things easier. So let me tell you the best trick to know about wills.

The Trick to Wills is Having One

Here is what I have learned and why you should listen to me.

Years ago I wrote a couple of Complete Idiots’ Guides for Canadians. I wrote about wills, estates and estate planning. I did media interviews and spoke to audiences across Canada.

I was also the founding chair of Ontario’s Make-a-Will Campaign. The campaign explained the importance of estate planning and charitable gifts. We explained the benefits of a lawyer prepared will.

I sponsored radio shows and answered callers’ will questions. I even named my law firm website mrwills.com.

I am frequently interviewed as a will and estate expert.

I know the difficulties people have understanding wills. Here are the three most common questions I am asked:

  • Why do I need a lawyer to make a will?
  • Why are wills so important?
  • Why do I need to change my will?

Find a Will Lawyer

You want to invest in a lawyer prepared will. You can find lawyers in every price range. When you spread the cost over 5-10 years, it is reasonable. Compare it to your monthly cable TV bill to prove it.

But make sure you do a little homework. You want to find the right will lawyer. You need to prepare before you meet with your lawyer. Ask the lawyer what you must bring to the meeting.

Do you really need to prepare for such a meeting? Wouldn’t you prepare for any important business meeting or presentation?

Preparation will save you time and money. You can then get the right advice.

Making a Will Is Important

Even if you postpone more extensive estate planning, you should make a will. It is the most cost effective way to protect your loved ones. Read more about what happens if you die without a will at mrwills.com. Look up intestate and intestacy problems.

Your will can later be revised. A full estate plan may include trusts for minor children or beneficiaries with special needs. You need to consider insurance, powers of attorney and planning to reduce taxes.

A will is the best way to protect your family and heirs. When you make a will you can:

  • reduce taxes your family must pay
  • arrange for the smooth transfer of property (a family business, summer home) from one generation to another
  • arrange for the orderly transfer of your assets in an inexpensive way
  • avoid unnecessary delays
  • reduce legal costs

Don’t Leave Things to Chance

Many people think their spouses or children will automatically receive all their property. This is not true.

What happens if you die without a will? Honestly, you leave your loved ones with more pain. I have seen it add years of extra legal work in an estate.

Think of the added problems you create by not having a will. No one can sign your tax returns or confirm your funeral arrangements. How does anyone get access to your private information?

Unless you have a will and name an executor or estate trustee, no one is in charge.

In some cases, almost half of your estate can be eaten up by taxes. Unnecessary costs and delays can eat up even more.
All of these problems can be avoided. You can do it by investing in a will today.

What You Need to Know

Wills are not cut in stone so they are easy to change. You’ll want to update your will whenever you experience changes like:

  • you move to a new jurisdiction (provincial laws are different)
  • your relationships change (you marry, separate or divorce)
  • your assets change (you inherit or start a business)
  • the law changes your tax or financial obligations
  • you need new guardians, beneficiaries or executors

Wills are the cornerstone of your estate plan. If you do nothing else to protect your family, at least make a will.

A professional will is always your best investment.

You can’t afford to have an amateur make your will.

I hope this information helps you make your will.

You can get started right now.

The truth is it’s never too soon to make your will.

The truth is that simple.

Ed Olkovich

Edward Olkovich (BA, LLB, TEP, C.S.) is a Toronto estate lawyer and nationally recognized author. Ed is a Toronto based Certified Specialist in Estates and Trusts. He can be reached through his web site, MrWills.com © 2014.


To Do Or Not To Do With Lawyers

Did you make a promise to yourself this year? I can help if you are still struggling with this question: Do I really need a lawyer to make my will? I’ll answer that question today with a free holiday gift for you.

If you want a lawyer, then hire one who regularly handles wills. But you also want one who knows about the laws that may affect you.

For example, a lawyer can help you with these extra needs:

  • You have extensive real estate holdings. You want some advice on tax and joint ownership.
  • You are going through a separation. You are in a common-law relationship. You’ll want someone who can explain your obligations and duties.
  • You are thinking of disinheriting someone. You want to know the pros and cons of how to go about doing this.

What do lawyers cost to make wills?

When you look for a lawyer, price should not be the most important factor. Would you hire a babysitter, nanny, or house contractor because that person came within your price expectations?

Clearly, there is more involved in hiring a lawyer to make your will. You need to trust their experience, professional reputation and have personal chemistry.

The cost of performing legal work is important, but it’s not the only thing you should consider in hiring a lawyer.

The trouble with price comparisons is that expensive lawyers are not always the best lawyers. Many lawyers compete and distinguish themselves on the basis of price or discounted fees.

A law firm could often offer a very low fee to attract as many clients as possible. Another lawyer quotes you a premium fee to discourage discount shoppers.

Don’t start with unreasonable costs expectations

You must look carefully at the overall package costs. Some firms will not automatically provide you with an itemized breakdown in their fee quote.

Find out what they consider their routine estate planning package.

  • Does it include powers of attorney for you and your spouse?
  • What if you and your spouse did not wish to have identical wills?
  • In case you have difficulties choosing a guardian or lawyer, will you see a law clerk or lawyer for advice?

Your local banker or financial advisor can recommend a list of lawyers. You may want to use their fee quotes as a starting point.

Do not be afraid to ask for a law firm’s written fee quote for preparing wills or estate planning documents.

Lawyer referral Sources

Here is a list of lawyer referral sources you can use to find lawyers:

  1. personal referrals
  2. local bar associations
  3. professional referrals – financial or tax adviser
  4. advertising online and Yellow Pages
  5. free seminars
  6. online checks of law firm websites and qualifications
  7. asking other lawyers

Now that holiday gift I mentioned to help you find a good lawyer. I have a free, special ebook called:

Find the Lawyer You Need: The 5 Biggest Mistakes You Must Avoid

I will continue this discussion in the New Year.

About Edward Olkovich

Edward Olkovich (BA, LLB, TEP, C.S.) is a nationally recognized author and estate expert. He is a Toronto estate lawyer and Certified Specialist in Estates and Trusts. Edward has practiced law since 1978 and is the author of Executor Kung Fu. Visit his website, mrwills.com, for more free valuable information.

© Edward Olkovich 2012