More than half of U.S. adults don’t have a will

If you don’t yet have a will, you’re not alone. More than half of American adults don’t have a will or living trust, according to a recent study by Princeton Survey Research Associates International.

While older adults are more likely to have wills than younger adults are, close to 20 percent of Americans over age 70 still don’t have wills, either

About one thousand adults participated in the survey. Some of the survey’s findings , as reported by, include:

  • 42 percent of U.S. adults have a will, trust or other estate plan.
  • Only 36 percent of parents with children under age 18 have wills.
  • 22 percent of millennials (aged 18 to 36) have wills.
  • 81 percent of people 72 or older have a will.

Why don’t more people have wills? Nearly half of those without a plan reported to surveyers that they were, essentially, procrastinating. Other factors could include how many assets someone has – someone with few assets might not think it’s important to have a plan for protecting them if they die.

But one of the most unsettling findings from the survey is how few parents of young children have wills, meaning that they don’t have a plan to establish a guardian in the event that they die before their children turn 18.

Regardless of your age, assets and family structure, if you don’t have a will or trust, you’re running a risk that the government will determine what happens to your assets, and potentially your children, after you die. You’re never too young to make sure your wishes control what happens after your death.

What are fiduciary duties?

If you have been named the executor or administrator of an estate, you may have a number of questions concerning your responsibilities and handling estate matters. It is crucial to recognize your responsibilities and key terms, such as your fiduciary duties. In Jamaica, New York, and all over the U.S., handling estate issues can be stressful. However, by familiarizing yourself with the process, you may be able to avoid complications or handle problems, such as a will dispute, appropriately.

According to the New York State Unified Court System, administrators and executors of estates have a number of responsibilities, known as fiduciary duties . For example, they are required to distribute a decedent’s property in accordance with his or her will (or the law, if no will was in place). Moreover, administrators and executors are responsible for addressing any money the estate owes to creditors, taxes, bills and expenses related to the estate. Additionally, fiduciary duties include gathering and appraising the estate’s assets.

Administrators and executors are required to act in good faith when handling an estate’s affairs. If one puts their personal interests before their responsibilities to the estate, or fails to carry out the decedent’s wishes as outlined in a will, they have breached their fiduciary duties. Under these circumstances, a will dispute may arise, which can be very challenging. If you are accused of breaching your fiduciary duties and are going through a will dispute, you should carefully examine the details of the case.

This post is not a substitute for legal advice.

Small estates, wrongful death and probate

After someone passes away, their family members may encounter various hurdles. In Jamaica, and all New York cities, families in this position may have unanswered questions or stress because of court. Sometimes, there is infighting between beneficiaries, which can make the loss even more painful. However, other issues may arise that families are not always aware of right away, such as whether or not a probate proceeding is necessary for a someone who had a small estate but did not leave behind a will.

According to the New York Courts, filing small estates is appropriate for decedents who left behind under $30,000 worth of personal property . Also known as voluntary administration, these proceedings are generally easier and less costly than probate. However, probate is advised for those who left behind a small estate, in certain circumstances.

While voluntary administration proceedings are generally ideal for those who had a small estate, a number of conditions may make probate preferable. For example, if it is possible that legal action will arise in the future, such as litigation over a wrongful death, those managing the estate may want to consider a probate proceeding  instead.

For decedents who owned real property, such as land or a family home, voluntary administration is not an option. If the person left behind a will, those in charge of the estate should move forward with the probate process. However, if no will was left behind, administration proceedings are recommended. Whenever any matters such as a potential wrongful death are involved, people should carefully review their options.

What is a voluntary administration proceeding?

When it comes to handling a loved one’s estate after they pass away, a multitude of issues may arise, from distributing their assets to settling a dispute between family members. In Jamaica, and across New York State, there are a plethora of issues that may be unique to a family’s situation and every case is different. For example, handling the probate process can be very different for those who are managing a small estate in comparison to those who are responsible for a sizable estate. However, it is essential for the administrator of any estate to ensure that they approach the probate process correctly.

According to the New York State Unified Court System, voluntary administration proceedings  are filed when decedents pass away and have less than $30,000. Also known as a small estate, voluntary administration proceedings do not require a will, so long as the decedent had less than $30,000 worth of personal property. However, when decedents own real estate or homes that are only in their name, they do not have small estates.

During voluntary administration proceedings, voluntary administrators are appointed by the Surrogate’s Court. When the decedent did not have a will, the voluntary administrator will be the closest heir. However, those who are listed as the executor on a will become the voluntary administrator. Voluntary administrators are required to gather and distribute the assets of an estate.

This post was written to provide helpful information concerning voluntary administration proceedings and should not be seen as a substitute for legal advice.

3 things to know about contesting a will in New York

Contesting a will is something you may need to do if your parent passes away and everything isn’t as you expected. For instance, if you had previously been the main heir to your parent’s estate and now it’s going to someone outside the family, that could draw some red flags. If you’re not sure that the will was changed appropriately, you can contest it. Here are a few things you need to know.

Establish legal grounds

The first thing you need to do is to establish that you have legal grounds to contest the will. One reason you might have is if you think someone influenced your parent in a way that was not fair to the family. For example, if your mom had dementia, a caregiver might have asked her to sign something when she didn’t understand what she was doing. This may also constitute fraud.

Improper execution is another claim you can make in court. It means that the will was not prepared correctly under the laws of the state, so it should not be upheld. A lack of capacity is the final item you can claim if you want to contest a will. If you claim your parent had a lack of capacity, it means that he or she was unable to make decisions at that time due to mental illness, disease or other causes.

Expect to pay some money

Contesting a will does cost money, and it may be worth looking into how much it will cost you to see if it’s worth the battle in court. It may not be worth pursuing the claim if you’ll lose money even if you win, for instance. Your attorney can talk to you more about the possibility of not only winning a case but what would happen if you lose.

Understand what you are getting into

With the right documentation, making a successful claim is possible. Wills, when created legally, are binding, but you have the right to contest one if something doesn’t seem right. Make sure your claim is a result of actual wrongdoing, and not one of sibling rivalry. You need to document everything you can to show that someone took advantage of your mother or father to prove your side of the case and to get the court to overturn the will. Video evidence or witness testimonies could help.

This takes time, and it can cause a rift in families if no wrongdoing took place. Be careful about what you choose to pursue if you don’t have evidence.

Do resident aliens have to pay estate taxes?

From naming an executor to distributing assets among beneficiaries, there may be a number of issues you are dealing with regarding estate planning. If you or one of your loved ones have a green card, you may be wondering how your residency status could affect certain estate-related matters, such as the estate tax. Whether you reside in Jamaica, New York, or anywhere in the U.S., it is important to consider any possible factors that could affect your estate.

According to the Internal Revenue Service, resident aliens are usually subjected to the same rules as U.S. citizens when it comes to filing estate taxes . If you have a green card, you will be required to pay estate taxes in the U.S. on your worldwide assets. As a result, it is vital to make sure that you understand how estate taxes work in the United States and plan accordingly.

While estate taxes and other aspects of estate planning can be stressful for green card holders, these matters can also seem complicated for those born in the U.S. Unfortunately, the consequences of failing to properly plan ahead can create a number of hurdles later on. In addition to potentially devastating emotional pain, your family members may experience financial challenges or be unable to gain access to your assets. By taking the right steps, you can help make things easier for your family.

You should remember that this post is provided for general informational purposes and you should not interpret it as a substitute for legal guidance.