Common Questions on Wills
There are certain common questions on Wills that everyone asks. The first question is usually, “Do I need a Will?” If you don’t have one, the laws of Connecticut will dictate where your assets go, and the person named to handle your Estate may not be the person you would have chosen. For many people, the Connecticut law will send property to your spouse, and if your spouse is deceased, to your children. But if you are married for a second time, the rules change and the law may not provide what you desire. So the answer is, yes, a Will is needed, and that is true even if you have a Revocable Trust, because it is a rare person who puts all his property into that Trust that was signed years ago.
The second question is often, “But won’t that mean I have to pay Probate fees?” the answer to that is, in Connecticut, Probate fees are not based on whether property passes through a will, but on the values shown on the Succession Tax Return (even though the Connecticut exemption is $3.5M). So it is not the Will that triggers a Probate fee, which in Connecticut is quite small, but the Succession Tax Return.
Another question is “Where should I keep my Will?” There is no single answer, but the rule of thumb is to keep it in a safe place such as a safe deposit box or fireproof box at home. And most important, tell your family, or other trusted persons where you keep it, because when it comes time to use it, you won’t be around to tell them it’s in the shoe box on the top shelf in the spare bedroom closet.
People will sometimes ask if the Will is good in other states and the answer is yes, as long as it was validly made here. That is true even if the signing requirements are different in another state.
Many people have prior Wills and ask what should be done with it. Since almost any lawyer will use language in the new Will “revoking all prior Wills”, it is not necessary to destroy the old one. But if there is a drastic change for some reason, such as leaving some out, it may be wise to destroy the old one so that person does not find and deep six the new one and present the old one to Probate.
“When should I review my Will?” is frequently asked. I often say “When something happens that makes you very glad or very sad.” That could be hitting the lottery (we all wish) or having a loved one need a nursing home. Not long ago, a client had to enter a nursing home, and her very old and wealthy sister died without changing her Will, and everything from the very wealthy sister went to reimburse the State of Connecticut for the care of the sick sister. Times to think of changes are upon retirement, if your assets change significantly, if something happens to your beneficiaries, if you marry, divorce, or have or adopt a child.
Last, people usually ask if they should tell their children what is in their Will. In most cases, nothing bad will come of this, but sometimes one child will feel miffed if they are not the Executor and a brother or sister is the Executor. If there is any chance of that type of ill-feeling, just tell those adult kids you have done a Will and where you keep it. The rest is none of their business. But they do need to know where it is. In the age of the word processor, it is very easy to modify an old Will, so making changes is usually quick and inexpensive.
The old adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is true when it comes to passing on property, so make sure you have those legal tools everyone needs, which include a Will. You’ll sleep better after your questions are answered and your Will is signed.