Home & Leisure



Real Estate Matters: Reader helps emphasize the importance of having a will

Ilyce Glink and Samuel J. Tamkin, Tribune Content Agency on

Reader comment: I am an estate attorney and had a case just like the one you described in a recent column where a person died without a will. In my situation, a man died unexpectedly of a heart attack, intestate. In other words, he had no will.

He left behind his girlfriend and their 23-year old son. All major assets, including the family home, were in his name. It could have been a disaster! I was able to convince his sole heir to deed the house to his mother after it passed to him, as well as many of the other assets. You gave good advice (as usual) to take care of this ASAP. I enjoy your column.

Our take: Thank you for reading our column and sharing the story of your client and his estate. This stuff happens all the time, and often there isn’t the kind of good (enough) ending that you describe.

We can’t stress enough the importance of understanding what you own, what you owe and deciding in advance what should happen to your property when you die. And, we understand it isn’t easy to talk about. Most of us find it incredibly difficult to think about our mortality, the people we’ll be leaving behind, and what to do with all of our worldly possessions.

Harder still, is talking to your loved ones about what you want done, and the hardest thing of all is to take action and put a plan into place. People just become paralyzed, so they decide it’s just easier not to do anything. And, soon, life’s distractions divert attention away from the important decisions that await you and nothing gets done.

It’s perfectly normal to procrastinate writing a will, but it’s absolutely necessary. Sometimes, people can’t decide who should be the guardians of their minor children, or oversee their money. So, they never name a beneficiary for a bank account, 401k account or life insurance policy. And, their home — which is generally the largest part of their net worth — is never even thought about.


When it comes to retirement accounts, life insurance policies and bank accounts, you should make sure to have a beneficiary (and a secondary beneficiary) named in case of your death. If your bank account is only in your name and you can’t name a beneficiary, you should add a family member to the account (not our most favored way of doing things, but better than nothing) or set up a will that designates who gets the money in that account and who will be the representative of the estate to handle those affairs.

You can go one step further and set up a living trust, retitle all of your bank account assets into the trust, and name a successor trustee that would handle the affairs for the trust upon your death. One mistake people often make with their estate plans is to set up the trust and sign the documents, but never put anything into it. (Hint: If the mail from the bank or lender isn’t addressed to the trust you set up, you haven’t retitled the asset correctly.)

In addition to writing a will and setting up a living trust (there are other kinds, if you and your estate attorney decide to get fancy), you should also sign powers of attorney for health care and financial matters. These documents will allow your chosen person to make financial decisions and sign checks or important decisions about your medical care, if you’re unable.

Why execute a power of attorney for financial matters? Simple. When the bank finds out you died, it will freeze the bank account (if you are the only one on the account). This means that your kids, spouse or heirs can’t touch that money unless they have some form of authority to handle your estate and step into your shoes.


swipe to next page



Scott Stantis A.F. Branco Chris Britt Dan Wasserman Andy Marlette Bob Gorrell