‘My in-laws are moving in with us, so I’d like them to inherit our home’: Is that a good idea?

Dear Quentin,

I have spoken with an attorney, but I see several online will services that are very inexpensive that include a will and a healthcare power of attorney. Is an online will service sufficient for most people? I am in the process of trying to figure out the best way to go about getting a will written as clearly and, hopefully, as affordably as possible. 

Can my will specify that my life insurance and other money be used to pay off my mortgage, so I can then leave my home to a family member or friend? Is that a good idea?

‘I plan to leave everything to my husband, but I would like my will to specify that if he predeceases me, our estate be split among others in our families.’

I work as a consultant with my own LLC, taxed as an S corporation, but I have no employees. I live in sunny Florida. Outside of my business bank account, I believe my finances are fairly straightforward and typical — a few retirement accounts, one primary residence, an investment property, a term-life insurance policy. My husband and I have mortgages on two properties, but we should have our primary home paid off in about seven years.

I plan to leave everything to my husband, but I would like my will to specify that if he predeceases me, our estate be split among others in our families. My in-laws are moving in with us, so I would like them to inherit our home. We have no children but have very close relationships with our nieces and nephews.

I appreciate any guidance you have on writing a will.

Hoping This Won’t be Needed for a Very Long Time

Dear Hoping,

If you have a home and a business and enough assets to pay off your mortgage, pay for an attorney. You can scrimp on eating out or take one less vacation this year if you need to save money, but don’t scrimp on making sure your will is rock solid. 

You should be able to find an attorney who can create a last will and testament for $300 to $500 and a durable power of attorney/living will for the same amount. The latter covers issues like end-of-life care and what happens if you become incapacitated.

You can instruct the executor of your will to use assets from your estate to pay off your mortgage, thereby allowing you to leave the house free and clear to a third party. Everyone should have a will, even people who are in their 20s and 30s or who don’t have children.

What’s more, if you leave your entire estate to your husband — that is, whatever you own that is treated as separate rather than community property — he too will need to make a will, and his may or may not align with your wishes.

If you leave your separate property to your husband, he too will need to make a will, and his may or may not align with your wishes.

A person making a will or signing a power of attorney must be of sound mind — also known as “testamentary capacity” — and not be under or subject to duress, restraint, fraud or undue influence. But laws do vary by state. 

For example, in Pennsylvania, each spouse can write a separate will, but you can’t can’t create a will that cuts your husband out of all inheritance, according to Karen Ann Ulmer Attorneys at Law, which has offices in that state.

There are many cautionary tales of people who died without a will — like Prince and Michael Jackson — or decided to do an online will. One lawyer told me a wealthy client wrote a will with an online service, but he forgot to sign it.

If you die without a will or without a legal will — one that is not notarized or that has some other legal anomaly that invalidates it — it will be left up to the laws in your state to decide who gets what, which could get complicated if your husband dies before you do.

And when you do write a will, you should review it every three to five years. But here’s to many more years before your executor needs to step up to the plate.

“You can scrimp on eating out or take one less vacation this year if you need to save money, but don’t scrimp on making sure your will is rock solid.”


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More from Quentin Fottrell:

Do children get 529 accounts in a divorce? My in-laws opened two plans for our kids, but their marriage is on the rocks. 

I gave my daughter $5,000 for her divorce, but she lashed out when I refused to give her more. When will enough be enough?

He wanted nothing to do with me’: I discovered my biological father through Ancestry.com. Am I entitled to a share of his estate?

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