A business looking to get referrals for estate-related services recently sent me a copy of its newsletter. It is one of those reverse “10 best reasons” lists. This one just happens to address a subject I know something about. Its title is: “The 10 Best Reasons NOT To Do Your Estate Plan.”
Naturally, I agree with the premise of the newsletter, which is that by pointing out some of the bad things that can happen, it emphasizes the benefits of planning your estate. I must, however, respectfully take issue with some of the reasons on the list, such as:
“2. You want to sponsor your attorney’s son’s private education at USC.”
The point the newsletter is trying to make here is that probate (estate administration) is very expensive. It’s true that the process can be costly, and take a long time, particularly if things go wrong, but the assumption that it will always be so is incorrect.
My sons were both educated at public universities in Arizona. I’m thankful that we were able to finance their educations without student loans. But I guarantee you that the legal fees for one estate administration are not going to pay for even a significant fraction of one semester at USC. The process can end up being time consuming and expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. I would wager that my flat fee for an uncontested estate administration is the best value in town for that service.
“8. You’d rather risk losing tens of thousands of dollars from your estate rather [sic] than around $2000-$4000 now.”
Investing in an appropriate estate plan will definitely reduce the cost of administering your estate, but with me, your estate plan probably won’t cost as much as that newsletter suggests. Depending on your circumstances, if you hire me to do your estate planning, the most it will cost is probably near the bottom of that range, and it could be substantially less.
You also won’t lose tens of thousands of dollars from your estate if I handle the administration of it, provided there’s no dispute. As I mentioned earlier, I handle uncontested estate administrations for a flat fee. The fee will vary some depending on your particular circumstances, but it will not be “tens of thousands of dollars.”
“10. You want to give up all control of your lifetime’s earnings to strangers who know nothing about you.”
This is a legitimate reason to plan your estate, but it really overstates the case. Yes, this can happen if you don’t have an estate plan and don’t have a family. In a typical estate administration, however, the only stranger who ever makes a decision is the Superior Court judge, and that’s necessary only if there is a dispute.
You probably have heard that probate is a process that is best avoided, yet there are some situations where it’s not a disaster, and may even be an acceptable alternative. Once I have explained what probate is and how it works, which I do every time I meet with someone about estate planning, they will have enough information to make a decision about what process will be best for their situation.
So yes, you should do your estate plan, but you should do it based on the best information available. I can help with that.
DON’T MAKE A HOLOGRAPHIC WILL UNLESS YOU HAVE NO ALTERNATIVE
While I’m on the subject of probate, below is a condensed version of an item I wrote some time ago about what you can do to make a will if you have no alternative.
Arizona law requires that a will be in writing, signed by the testator and by two witnesses. A will that does not comply with those requirements can nevertheless be valid, however, if the signature and the material provisions are in the handwriting of the person making the will (that’s the “testator”). Such a will is called a holographic will.
A holographic will should be used only as a last resort. Getting the will admitted to probate, and the actual administration of the estate, are likely to be much more complicated with a holographic will than with a conventional will. If you have no alternative, however, here’s my template for a holographic will:
The Arizona law that specifies the requirements for a valid holographic will says that the signature and material provisions must be in the handwriting of the testator. This means you should write the entire thing out in longhand. It’s not going to be that long anyway. And yes, it has to be ink on paper. Electronic versions can’t be filed with the court, at least not yet.
First, write “This is my Will.” Next, write “I nominate [insert name here] as my personal representative.” Then, write “I give all of my estate to [insert name].” Finally, if you have children under 18, write this: “I nominate [insert name] as guardian and conservator for my children under age 18.” Then sign your name and write the date under your name.
Seriously, don’t do this unless you have no alternative. But if you have to make a will this way, it should work (in Arizona, that is; I don’t know what the rules are in other states).
Nathan B. Hannah is a Shareholder in the Tucson office, and practices in the areas of estate planning and administration, real estate, and commercial transactions. He is also a noted blogger, and you can find more of his articles on his private blog,
Contact Attorney Hannah: firstname.lastname@example.org or 520/ 322-5000
This communication is designed to bring legal developments of interest to the attention of our clients and others. It should not be relied upon as a substitute for specific legal advice in a particular matter. For further information on any of the subjects discussed, or for legal advice in connection with any particular matter, please contact us.