July 2008 Archives

July 29, 2008

Most Americans Don't Have a Will: Don't Feel Guilty, Get Busy

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For years, I've told my clients to stop feeling guilty that they haven't done an estate plan yet and feel good that they're making one -- most people never draft a will before they die.

A new survey published by Lexis-Nexis recently backed me up. The Harris Interactive poll, conducted for Lawyers.com, surveyed 1,018 adults and found that more than half (55%) of them didn't have a will. Only one in three African American adults (32%) had a will. Only one in four Hispanic Americans (26%) had a will.

Why do so many people persist in acting like they're immortal? Here are the top reasons identified in the survey:

  • People don't like to think about dying.
  • People don't know how to get started or who to talk to about an estate plan.
  • People think that they don't have enough assets to need one.
For the record: We all die. There are terrific self-help products out there to help you get a will done, and there's no minimum asset requirement for leaving behind a valid will -- no matter what you've got, it's important to name guardians for minor children and clearly state your wishes with regard to how your property is to be distributed.

So, what's holding you back now?
July 27, 2008

Estate Auctions Online: Avoid Family Strife

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It's classic: grandmother dies, and a formerly happy family dissolves into unhappiness over distributing up her personal property. The problem is that everyone wants that pie plate, special painting, or lemonade pitcher and all the will says is that her children and grandchildren should "divide up the personal property in substantially equal shares."

Deciding who gets what has a tendency to reduce even the most mature of us to four-year olds, squabbling over toys, because there's only one of each treasured thing, and it's just not possible to divide them into pieces.

Now, eDivvyUp, an online auction site, offers a new alternative to what can be a very uncomfortable situation. At eDivvyUp, a family estate manager can register the estate, catalog and photograph the available items, invite the family to participate in the auction, and then (here's the critical thing) assign each family member an equal number of points.

Want that pie plate more than anything? You can bid all 1,000 points and win it, but you won't get anything else in the auction. At the end of the auction, the estate manager's job is to distribute the property to those who won.

Online auctions are not a substitute for the kind of good family communication that may help avoid conflicts in the first place. I'm sure unhappy families would still be able to find something to squabble about (like the auction results). But they might be just the ticket for some families, who can use an online auction to divide up treasured things as fairly as possible.