How To Prevent My Child from Becoming a Ward of the Court

How To Prevent My Child from Becoming a Ward of the Court

If something happens to you and you’re unable to care for your children, the court system may step in. Making a child a ward of the court is only a last resort. If you’ve already made other arrangements, the court system would prefer to honor those arrangements as long as they account for your children’s best interests.

What is a Ward of the Court?

A ward of the court is a child who is under the care of the court system. The court monitors the child’s education, healthcare, finances, and other needs. The court may appoint a guardian for the child, or the child may be placed into foster care.

When Can a Child Become a Ward of the Court?

A child can become a ward of the court when their parents are unable to care for them. This can happen involuntarily in cases of abuse or neglect. In an estate planning context, it may be due to the death of the parents or an incapacitating illness or injury.

This process isn’t ideal for the children or their families, so it’s only used as a backup plan. If there are other arrangements, such as a nominated guardian who has the financial ability to care for the child, the court would rather entrust the care of the child to that person under the court’s supervision rather than having the state take responsibility for the child.

What Happens if Something Happens to the Parents?

If a child’s parents suffer a sudden accident or injury, a number of legal processes will begin. If the parents never return to pick up their children at school or some other location, the adults there will try to reach the emergency contacts the parents previously provided. If they can’t reach any family members or friends to take temporary care of the child, they may notify police or child protective services.

While the preferred option is to get the children with someone they know as quickly as possible, that is only a temporary solution. Without prior planning by the parents, they won’t have the legal authority to make important decisions for the children or even to maintain custody without a separate court process.

If there is no one willing or able to take care of the children, they may be brought to a shelter or placed into foster care.

Can a Parent Stop a Child from Becoming a Ward of the Court?

If you’re charged with abuse or neglect, you have due process rights to protect your parental rights and can work with an attorney who practices in that area to maintain custody. If you die or become incapacitated, it’s simply impossible to go to court and fight for your children. Since it’s this latter scenario that you’re trying to prevent through estate planning, the only way to prevent your child from becoming a ward of the court is to plan ahead.

How to Decide Who Takes Care of Your Children

If you want to decide who takes care of your children instead of having a court do it, there are a few steps you need to take.

Update Your Emergency Contacts

Schools, daycares, and anyone else who takes care of your children for the day will usually ask for a list of people who are authorized to pick up your children. This should include who should pick them up in an emergency when you can’t be reached. Your children should also know the name and phone number of a relative or close friend to call in an emergency.

Keep in mind this is just a temporary arrangement. Even if your selected person is willing to care for your children indefinitely, they won’t have legal authority to make decisions for them at the doctor, school, bank, or other important places.

Nominate a Guardian

A more permanent solution is to nominate a guardian. A guardian takes full care of your children with the same authority of a parent. While the court technically selects the guardian, it will honor a parent’s wishes as long as the nominated guardian is suitable. If your chosen guardian lives out of state, you may wish to also nominate a local temporary or backup guardian until the permanent guardian can arrive or your family can arrange for the children to move to the permanent guardian.

Create a Power of Attorney

You can also create a power of attorney for your children. This is similar to a guardianship in that you can grant your selected agent full authority to do anything you could, but it’s more temporary. A power of attorney can help in cases of temporary illness or if something happens to one parent while the other is traveling away from home.

Appoint a Conservator

A conservator is similar to a guardian but only handles financial affairs while another guardian handles everything else. Some parents worry about a guardian misusing assets the parents left for their children’s benefit. While courts do monitor guardians, some financial abuses can go unnoticed by the court if another family member isn’t aware to bring it to the court’s attention. Appointing a separate conservator provides a more direct form of oversight.

How to Provide for Your Children Financially

When courts are reviewing who will care for children, they consider financial means. A family member who you would like to be the guardian may not have the income or assets needed to raise your children. While the guardian generally doesn’t legally have personal liability for childcare expenses, your children do need some source of money in order to not become wards of the court. You have several options to achieve this.

Life Insurance

Life insurance is one of the easiest ways to provide for your children. You can buy a policy that covers your future earnings or what you would have spent to raise them including college costs. You can name your children as beneficiaries, or have the money go into a trust on their behalf.

Will

You can also use your will to leave money to your children. Creating a will is a simple step, but it isn’t without pitfalls. A will has to go through probate, and if you have debts, your creditors may be entitled to repayment before your heirs receive anything. A will also provides the lowest degree of control over how the money you leave is spent.

Trust

A trust with your children as the beneficiary holds assets to your benefit during your life and then automatically transfers them to your children upon your death. Some of the major benefits of using a trust are that you can set it up to hold money until your children reach a certain age or to be used for a specific purpose.

Durable Financial Power of Attorney

You should also prepare for a long-term illness or other incapacitation. Life insurance, wills, and trusts only work after death. If you are still alive, your family will need the legal authority to access your funds to use for your children.

A durable power of attorney kicks in on a triggering event you specify such as your hospitalization. You can give your power of attorney access to your checking account, or you can maintain a separate savings account with funds for your children in case of an emergency. To the extent you have funds available, this guarantees money will be available for your children regardless of your family’s willingness or ability to cover their expenses.

What Do You to With Your Plan?

Once you have a plan in place, make sure the right people know about it. Keep copies of everything with your other important documents, and tell your family where to find them. Anyone you select to care for your children should have their own copies to present to legal authorities if needed.

In addition, give age-appropriate information to your children. This can be as simple as telling a toddler to call grandma if you don’t answer or telling an older child their uncle will take care of them if anything ever happens to you. After a certain age, this can actually be comforting to children who may have seen movies about orphans and have their own worries about becoming wards of the court.

Get Help from an Attorney

Preventing your child from becoming a ward of the court requires proactive planning. To make sure you don’t miss anything and everything will work as you expect, talk to an estate planning attorney at Lilac City Law. Contact us now to schedule a consultation.

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5 Hacks for Setting Up a Living Will and Trust

Age is a slippery slope. The older you get, the more dependent you are on others. At some point, you cannot depend on yourself at all. 

Around 60-years-old, there is a 7% chance you will suffer from dementia. Two decades later, and it is more likely you will have dementia than you will not. By then, your decision-making is not trustworthy. 

Let your younger-self plan for future-you. Take the time now to decide what will happen to you and your property if the worst happens. 

These are 5 hacks to devising a will and trust.

Distinctions Between A Will and Trust

Legal jargon’s a little confusing. Layman’s terms can cause erroneous interchanging of the two meanings. A living trust and a living will are two, very separate things.

A lawyer can modify these documents when the person is able-bodied and right of mind. The ownership of these agreements transfers to the executor if either condition is not met.

A living trust documents the disbursement of your property after passing. A succeeding trustee will allocate your estate to your named beneficiaries. 

A living will deals with your health if you have been incapacitated. If you would like to be kept on support or not when you are unable to function for yourself. 

List Your Assets

Make a list of everything you own that has value: sentimental or capital. This a catalog of your assets. 

When devising your living trust, it is important to have an estimation of everything you own. Creating a trust will be easy when you can reduce this to a quantifiable number. Think of your house, your car, and everything included as your estate.

Most Americans will have around $300,000 worth of property to disperse. If your number is coming up short or high, try recalculating it. 

Your trustee will disperse your estate evenly (or how you deem fit) to your beneficiaries. 

Picking Your Beneficiaries

This part can be tough. It might be the toughest part for you. 

You have to choose who gets what when you are gone. This step is entirely dependent on your relationship with your loved ones. 

You might not have a family that you can give an estate to. Or you have a family undeserving of your property. It is yours to do what you wish; you can even donate it to charity. 

Pick who you think best deserves what you have earned in life. 

Find A Trustee You Can Trust

It is all in the name, “trustee.” Who do you trust to allocate your estate or make a life-or-death decision? 

Usually family. Most family members have nothing but loving intentions for you. 

If you do not have that, pick a trustee you can depend on. This person will decide your fate when you are gone physically or mentally. 

How to Write It

Writing a trust or a will depends on your wealth. If you are of moderate means, creating a will yourself is acceptable. But those with heavy wallets and lots of assets should hire an estate lawyer. 

Devising a will or a trust can be done through online software. Get the help of a loved one if you are uncomfortable with computers. 

A forewarning: doing either agreement incorrectly can devastate your beneficiaries. For those who err on the side of caution, it is recommended to get a lawyer regardless of your estate’s size. 

Take Care (of Yourself and Family) 

Everybody ages, everybody dies. What you do beforehand is important.

Know the distinction between a living will and a living trust. A will is health-related; a trust is for dispersing property. Make a list of your assets and decide a trustee to disperse them to beneficiaries.

You can create a will and trust yourself, but it is advised to do it with the help of a lawyer. 

Contact us if you have any other legal questions about estate planning or wills.

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How Did I Miss That? 5 Common Mistakes When Writing a Will

Despite the importance of estate planning, a majority of Americans seem to neglect it. In fact, 60% of American adults do not have a will.

Having more than enough to worry about already, many people do not want to add their mortality to their list of concerns. But writing a will can help you take good care of those you love, protect your assets, and prevent future disputes.

But just creating a will is not enough. You need to take the necessary measures to avoid common pitfalls that make your will legally sound.

Avoid these five common mistakes when writing a will.

Only Planning for the End of Life

A legal will should not just cover what will happen when you die. It should also articulate what should happen while you are still living.

To achieve this, you will need to create a living will as well as the last will and testament form.

The living will outlines your health care wishes while you are still alive. The last will and testament form gives your directives on estate inheritance after your death.

When drafting a living will remember to include advance directives.

Failing to Update Your Will

Making a will is not something you do once and forget about it. You need to update your will according to significant life changes.

Failure to do this can result in unintended inheritances and gifts, leaving your estate in a big mess.

Ignoring the Law

Each state has different legal requirements for creating a will. So before writing your will, familiarize yourself with your state’s stipulations for creating one.

Specifically, find out your state’s restrictions and requirements on matters such as; the number of witnesses required, selection criteria for witnesses, age, and notarization.

Failing to Name an Executor

An executor is a person responsible for ensuring that your will is followed to the letter. In your will, you should include the name of this individual/entity.

But before you select an executor, it is essential to get their permission. This is not something you would want to be a surprise.

Additionally, consider selecting a second executor. In case the first executor is unable to carry out their duties for whatsoever reason; the second executor will fill in.

Including Burial Wishes in the Will

Including your burial instructions in your will is not ideal, as wills are typically read several weeks after the funeral. As such, your burial instructions might be read too late, and this can leave your loved ones stressing about not observing your last wish.

To avoid this, write your burial instructions in a separate letter and tell your family where to find it.

Who to Trust When Writing a Will

Considering these potential pitfalls, writing a will can be a little bit tricky without a helping hand.

If you do not know how to write a will, Lilac City Law is here to help. We take our time to get to know you, your goals, and circumstances. This way, we can help you protect your assets better and secure the future of your loved ones.

Whether you want to create a will or maximize the effectiveness of the one you have already created, our experts will ensure that your last wishes are fully observed.

Contact us today to get started!

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Not a DIY Job: Why You Need an Attorney to Write a Will

About 60% of Americans do not have a will or a living trust.

Granted, thinking and planning for the end of life is not something anyone would be enthusiastic about. So, while most people know they should, they wait until later to write a will.

Unfortunately, the decision at most times is put off until it is too late. In fact, 55% of Americans die without ever having had a will.

Why Do You Need a Will?

If you pass away or become incapacitated without writing an enforceable will, your loved ones might be tied in the legal system battling for your property long after you are gone.

It also means that how you want your property divided or your remains disposed of is left in the hands of other people.

To avoid this, it is best to draw up a will as early on as possible and revisit it as necessary.

DIY vs. Legal Expert to Write a Will

First things first; do you need to pay a lawyer to draw up your will, or can you DIY?

The internet is awash with how to do wills, complete with templates, and so on. So yes, it is possible to do your own will. The most important question is this: should you?

And if you do, will it be valid and enforceable in a court of law? Hiring a lawyer ensures that what you want is captured accurately because you will not be there to speak for yourself.

Here are three top reasons why you should let your attorney oversee this process.

1. Will vs. Estate Planning

A will is easy to DIY. However, hiring an estate planning lawyer to advise and oversee your estate planning is indispensable.

An estate plan is a detailed document that prepares for your death or disability.

This document will encompass your will, healthcare power of attorney document, financial power of attorney, and disposal of your final remains, among other things.

2. Legal Terms Can Be Your Undoing

You want your will to be interpreted exactly as you thought it out in your head. However, the words and phrasing you use can later be misinterpreted—intentionally or unintentionally.

Further, the various governing bodies and state regulations are fluid and are not easy to understand and keep up with.

However, this is an attorney’s job, so they are well-versed with phrasing, legal terms, and new regulations. When you bring a lawyer on board to handle your will, you are giving yourself the best chances of your will being enforced the way you want it.

3. Objectivity

A lawyer functions as a neutral party when drawing up a will. It is not uncommon for people to rush into doing a will after major fallouts where the main aim is to disinherit someone.

In such cases, your attorney can be objective and advise on this.

They are also able to look into the future outcomes of the decisions you make now. For example, an attorney can advise how to hold money or place it in a trust until the beneficiaries fulfill specific requirements.

They can also advise on who the executors should be so that, again, your wishes are honored after your passing.

The Verdict

All in all, you want not only to have your last wishes fulfilled, but you also want your family to have a sense of normalcy as soon as possible after your passing. When you write a will, this is achievable.

Would you like to talk to someone about drafting or amending an existing will? Contact us, and we will be happy to hold your hand through the process.

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5 Common Misconceptions About Planning for the Future

Planning for your death can seem morbid, but in fact, having a solid end of life plan is a smart idea. 

There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding end of life planning, especially when it comes to drawing up and maintaining a will. 

Read on to learn the truth about some common myths (or misunderstandings) surrounding estate planning.

Myth: A Will Only Deals with My Belongings

Almost everyone knows the fundamentals about wills and what they do. Before you die, you write out a list of who gets all your belongings to make things easier to divvy up after you die. Your cousin gets the dresser in the bedroom, your niece gets your collection of antique books, and so on.

But, in fact, wills deal with a lot more than just your financial assets. It also specifies what you would like to happen in the circumstances surrounding your death. These wishes can include health care plans should you become unable to make those decisions yourself and even funeral planning.

Myth: Drawing Up a Will is Complicated

There is a general perception that drawing up a will is a lengthy and complex process. You have to figure out who gets what, who is going to take care of which issues, and all the little details surrounding your death. Making all those decisions can start to seem overwhelming and unreasonable.

But really, all you are doing is specifying what you want. If you find a good financial advisor and attorney, they can help you translate that into legal documents that protect your wishes. It is only as complicated as sitting down and saying, “No, I want the end of my life to look like this.”

Myth: Once I Write My Will, It is Set

One of the reasons people wait to draw up their wills is that they believe once they have written out the will, there is no changing it. They would rather wait until later in life when they can be more precise about who they want which assets to go to. But changing your will is not as difficult as it may seem.

As a matter of fact, reviewing and adjusting your will is an expected part of the estate management process. Estate managers know that you may have another child or have a new person enter or leave your family. Most estate planners recommend reviewing your will every three to five years and adjusting it as needed.

Myth: Only Rich People Worry About Estate Planning

If you make less than several million dollars per year, it may seem like you do not need an estate plan at all. After all, if you do not have millions of dollars in assets, is it going to be that big of a deal to divide up your things? 

But despite what you may think, no matter what the state of your assets, it is a good thing to have a will in place. For one thing, as we mentioned, a will covers everything about your end of life arrangements, not just distribution of your assets. But also, it is always a good idea to have a plan in place to make things easier on the bereaved, should the worst happen.

Myth: I Can Wait Until I’m Older!

One of the all-time top myths about drawing up a will is that if you do not have white hair yet, you do not need to worry about it. After all, if you have just started your career, or if your retirement account only has $200 in it, there is plenty of time to worry about that. You can set up a will later, when you are older.

The unfortunate truth is, you do not know when you might need a will. No matter how young and healthy you are, you could walk out your front door and get run over by a bus tomorrow. It is smart to have all your assets and end of life plans taken care of from the jump, just in case the worst happens.

Learn the Truth About Other Common Myths & Misunderstandings

If you are looking for the best help in drawing up and maintaining your last Will & Testament, get in touch with us at Lilac City Law.  Contact us today to start securing your future.

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Celebrate Your Military Family, Improve Your Military Will

Celebrate Your Military Family By Improving Your Military Will

There’s an old military adage that says, “No good plan survives engagement.” 

While this quote’s timelessness must lend credit to its applicability in battle, it transcends its martial roots and applies equally as well to law.  Especially Estate Law. 

Take for instance the idea of a Last Will and Testament.  A Will is probably the most well known and well-understood items in an estate plan.  The purpose of the Will is to make sure your assets go where you want them to go after you pass away.  It need not be too complicated, and in many cases, Wills have been as simple as notes scratched on a piece of paper from the deathbed of the person writing the Will.  <- We do not advise this, but if it is a bad idea and it works, is it indeed a bad idea?  

Today, and this month, we are celebrating the Month of the Military Kid.  As a law firm, this got us thinking, what can we do to celebrate?

 Share updates and resources, check.  Spread the good word, check.  Educate…  we can do that!  That is what this blog is all about.  Getting good information, usable information, from our brains and into a forum (this forum!) where readers can make informed decisions.  In that spirit, the purpose of this article is to answer for Veterans and those still serving, why their Military Will is not enough protection for their family, and show them how to fix this.  

Your Military Will Just Is Not Enough

It’s not your fault, and it is not a bad start.  But the hard fact is, your military Will is not enough protection for your family.  Here’s why.

As we mentioned above, a Will of any type is designed to designate who will get your assets when you pass.  The process begins with your death and then must go through a legal action known as probate.  Probate is the bane of estate planners for several reasons.  The top of these reasons being time, cost, messiness.

Probate is an Unnecessary Pain

Death is a hurry up and wait process when probate is factored in.  You are scrambling around trying to figure out last arrangements (if you haven’t set up an estate plan ahead of time), trying to figure out the finances of paying for burial or cremation, ceremonies, and getting family and friends together.  Then, you have all the assets of the deceased to figure out what to do with.

Houses, cars – are they owned?  Who has the right to sell them? Trinkets, storage items, family heirlooms, tv’s, jewelry, books, intellectual property, investments…the list is endless.  And it is going to take 6-9 months to figure out who has the right to even make decisions on these assets.  That is 6-9 months to work through probate, assuming the issue of ownership is uncontested!

Let’s set aside the time suck that is probate on Willed assets and work our way through costs.  Get ready to pay up to 10% of the assets of the estate just to transfer them to where they are supposed to go!

If you are keeping track that’s thousands of dollars and 6-9 months so far.  Again, IF the declarations in the Will are uncontestable.  Do you have an ex-wife that owns half your house but your adult kids and your current fiance’ are the ones named to inherit your assets in your military Will?  How’s that going to be settled?  Who is going to help you (or really them) to figure it out?  And how much is it going to cost?

Wills In the Military

Being honest, we are pointing out the drawbacks of Wills because there is another way for young families to prepare for the future. An approach that can release them & you from the turmoil of probate, the financial burden of an unnecessary legal process, and avoid the messiness of contested assets altogether.   So why does the military get service members set up with Wills in the first place?

For one, Wills are relatively straightforward and easy to set up en masse.  Did your command order you and 100 other people to set up your military Will through JAG?  Was it a pre-deployment Will or something set up for family day?  If so, it may be very limited in scope and entirely out of date if any one of a hundred or more things have happened since it was penned.

New kids, new property, new assets, new marriage situations, and more are all reasons to update a Will.  And in reality, updating a Will is not as simple as crossing off an outdated item and adding a new issue.  You are likely going to have to re-write the whole thing.

So, while military Wills get the job done, temporarily.  They do not grow with you and your needs, and if it has been a year or more since you established yours, you need another option.

Another Option – Let’s Talk Total Estate Planning

Wills are a means to an end and can be effective if you use them in the right way.  However they do come with drawbacks, and for a young military family, there are strong reasons to consider other paths for estate planning.  Especially, trusts, powers of attorney, and other options.

Recall from this discussion some of the drawbacks of Wills, and particularly military Wills.  

  • To transfer assets upon death requires probate, which can take 6-9 months;
  • Probate can cost up to 10% of the assets of the deceased;
  • Disputes over the Will can lead to painful situations which are only solved in probate court; and,
  • Wills only cover items and beneficiaries specifically.  Any change to your situation and family might change the whole dynamic of the military Will.  

A trust on the other hand

  • Can transfer assets almost immediately upon death, or even before passing if it is set up to do so. 
  • Will not require anyone to pay lawyers or a probate court.  Once the trust is set up the only cost is modifying it, if necessary.
  • Trustees (recipients of the trust) are decided between you and your estate lawyer when drafting and updating the trust.  It is very clear who your trustee(s) will be and under what conditions they assume control of the trust that your assets have been placed in. 
  • You can set up your trust to be disbursed to certain people in certain circumstances.  If you want your brother to receive part of your assets upon passing but not his spouse, you can make that a condition at any point.  
  • Lastly, a trust is private.  The process of going through probate opens up the details of your assets to the public eye.  Your beneficiaries could have unscrupulous suitors showing up at their door if you have a sizable estate to pass on.  A trust being disbursed to the trustee(s) in the manner you wanted is not handled in the public eye.  

Should You Scrap Your Military Will? 

You already know there are no absolutes in life.  And as we have discussed in this article, this sentiment is true in death too!

Should you scrap your military Will wholesale?  Maybe not.

At the very least, it is a fantastic jumping off point to discuss what else you should be considering or should have already considered.

The good news is that while you are still alive, it is not too late!

We Help Military Families Get Their Estate Plans In Order

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Is it True that Prince Didn’t Have a Will?

Is it True that Prince Didn’t Have a Will?

Prince, the well-known music icon from the 80s, continued to make music and wow his fans even in the 90s and 2000s.  When he died, many people across the world mourned his passing and fell in love again with his music.  However, as news of his passing persisted, many were shocked to find out that Prince didn’t have a will to direct the disbursement of his estate.

How does someone with so much fame and fortune not have a will?  Where will his assets and royalties go?  Is there such thing as too rich to need a will?  Or too poor, perhaps?

That’s the question we wanted to answer with this article.  Whether you are a world-famous artist like Prince was, or you just started your family and are living paycheck to paycheck, it is important for you to have a will and an estate plan in place.  Your assets and such are just as important to you as his were to him.

What is a Will?

A will is essentially a legal document stating how you would like your assets divided and who will receive them.  This gives you an opportunity to make sure anyone you want to include will be included.

Why Doesn’t Everyone Have a Will?

Creating a will seems like something you shouldn’t worry about until you are in your 60’s and 70’s and getting ready to retire.  It is an understatement to say that a lot of people put it off.  Unfortunately, not everyone lives until they are old.  There is illness, accidents, and other things that may result in untimely passing.  It is far more reasonable and proactive for you and your family to have you write a will early on in your life and you can adjust it as necessary as you age and your circumstances change.

What Happens if You Do Not Have A Will?

If you don’t have a will, the state will decide how your assets are divided up and who will get what.  Each state has a different law, so how it gets divided depends on your state laws.  Legal spouses, children, grandchildren, parents, and siblings typically will receive the assets.  Charities, friends, and unmarried partners are not included and if relatives cannot be found, the state may retain your assets.

How Does Having a Will Help?

If you do not have a will then your family will have to apply to a probate court.  They will appoint someone to oversee your estate.  This could be lengthy and expensive.  In your will, you will appoint your own executor which will help probate move quicker and not cost as much.

Having an estate plan will also allow you to make sure people you may not want to receive anything, will not.  It also makes it less stressful for your family because they won’t have to decide how to divide your assets and will keep them from having to fight in court if they can’t decide.

Having a will is not necessarily for you, you will not be around to see it executed.  It is for your loved ones.  Leaving them to sort out your assets and paying for court fees after losing you is not the way you want to go.

In Prince’s case, his sister is now left with the mess of fighting to make the decisions on his estate, then figuring out how it should be disbursed.  Don’t leave a mess for your family.  Make sure you have a will.

 

Talk to an Attorney Today About Setting Up Your Will

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Additional Reading

Why Prince Didn’t Leave a Will

Prince Didn’t Leave A Will!

Prince didn’t have a will and neither do nearly 60 percent of Americans