Wayne Adult Community Center

Feature article from the April, 2005 Newsletter

A Will is not Enough

SIX years ago, Peggy Hathaway's mother, who had Alzheimer's disease, called her daughter
to say that she could not find her stock and bond certificates.  Ms. Hathaway, now 58, spent
three days searching for the certificates before finding them behind an antique organ in the
family room.  As her mother's health deteriorated, Ms. Hathaway and other family members
spent considerable time and "well into the thousands of dollars" in legal fees to sort out the
Although Ms. Hathaway's mother, who died in 2003, had put her home into a trust, she had 
not created a detailed record of her other assets or explained how she wanted them divided
among her relatives.
Many people, of course, don't like the thought of planning for the eventual disposal of their 
assets. But when people fail to make estate-planning decisions while they are alive and well,
the results for their heirs can be costly and stressful.  A lack of planning can also limit the
ability of children to carry out their parents' wishes, according to many financial experts
who are familiar with estate planning.
Even when parents make certain provisions, failure to anticipate the possibility of family 
disagreements can have consequences. Carolyn Hecathorn, a homemaker who died in 1994
in Orinda, Calif., named her three daughters as equal partners of a trust that she had set up
earlier. But according to one of the daughters, Tara Mantell-Hecathorn, the trust required

unanimous rather than majority agreement, and the daughters could not all agree on how
to split their mother's assets. The siblings, who were once close, according to Ms.
Mantell-Hecathorn, spent the next four years embroiled in costly legal arguments.
Allen Purkiss, a certified financial planner and principal at Purkiss Capital Advisors in 
Ridgefield, Conn., says that ... it is … important to think about the details and to discuss
decisions with beneficiaries. 
"In a will, you can be as vague or specific as you want,
" Mr. Purkiss said. "The key is thinking it through. The more communication there is,
through a letter to the executor and conversations with the children, the less room there
is for misunderstanding
Understanding the implications of how assets are passed along can save time and money for 
beneficiaries. Some parents, however, remain reluctant to discuss such matters with their
children or to agree to particular legal maneuvers for fear that such moves are tantamount
to losing control of their finances and assets.

If someone dies without a will, a court appoints an administrator to wrap up the person's financial affairs, and beneficiaries are determined according to state law. Under these circumstances, the beneficiaries have to figure out the assets in an estate, a process that can take months if not years.

But a will, on its own, may not make life much easier for beneficiaries.  "Even if there's a will in place it may not say, 'Here are all my assets and all my accounts,' " said Carl Emerick, a senior financial adviser at Sentinel Wealth Management at Reston, Va.

After a blood clot in her lung nearly killed Dr. Trudy Couch five years ago, she said she realized that she had some instructions that she wanted to write out for her loved ones. While she had set up a trust to shelter her assets and had named …, one of her daughters as executor, she had not left any specific records detailing what her assets were and where they were held.

Once she recuperated, Dr. Couch, now 93 and living in Silver Spring, Md., remedied that situation by drafting a personal instruction booklet. In it, she listed the names and contact numbers of her doctors, accountants and financial advisers, and of all the people she wants to be notified when she dies. She added an outline of the milestones in her life, to serve as a legacy.

Based on an article By JENNIFER FRIEDLIN in the January 2, 2005 New York Times

W. A. Shapiro