Birthday present to myself: A will

Creating a will

TEXT OF STORY

Lisa Napoli: This coming Wednesday is Halloween. It also happens to be my birthday. And just like everyone else, I'm not getting any younger.

I was talking to my mom on the phone about it and she started getting all philosophical.

Mom: So for your birthday, you have to start doing something, not just for you, but to say, what you're gonna do in your afterlife.

Hey, Mom -- I'm not that old!

But see, my mother is paid to think this way: she's a financial planner and stock broker. She's used to having these kinds of conversations, and she knew exactly how I should start writing my last will and testament.

Mom: If you're gonna have people have a party for you, first of all, so you put something in there saying "Hey, let's have a big party." And then you think of the people who would benefit, who really would use your money the way you'd want it used.

That was actually fun to imagine.

See, I don't have a traditional family, but I've got lots of friends and kids in my orbit -- some who don't have a whole lot of cash. And there are causes I like to support.

So next, I called a lawyer named Eric Matlin. Of course, he agreed with my mother.

Eric Matlin: Every single person is gonna face -- well, you know, we're all gonna die -- and just looking away from it doesn't make it any less likely to happen.

Eric's written a book for people like me. It's called the Procrastinator's Guide to Wills and Estate Planning.

He said once I knew who I wanted to give my money to, I needed to tally up my cash.

Matlin: A general picture of your assets is good enough. What kind of insurance, life insurance do you have...

And other things I own, like my car. Once I divvied up who would get what, I went online to the do-it-yourself Web site LegalZoom.

Chas Rampanthal is a lawyer there. I asked him the difference between a will and a living trust.

Chas Rampanthal: The benefit of a trust over a will is that a trust can avoid probate. The process of probate is when you take your will and your executor files it with the court. And, when that will is filed with the court, obviously it becomes public and then the assets are distributed according to that will.

Even if none of my heirs disputes what's in the will, probate can take months or even a year and cost a good chunk of change. Setting up a trust instead of just a will avoids that.

The tricky and annoying part is what Chas says I have to do next.

Rampanthal: You need to contact each one of your accounts and ask them what paperwork you need to do with them that transferred those assets in there.

The money is still mine, and I'll have total control over it, but now all of my accounts will be in something called the "Lisa Napoli Trust."

Makes me sound really rich, doesn't it?

Chas promised all this is fairly straightforward, even though it seems a bit daunting. While I was at it, I did a living will and power of attorney, too. I always promised myself I would after the Terry Schiavo case a few years back.

And now that I've got a handle on this practical stuff, it's time to figure out the fun part of celebrating my birthday.

Thanks Mom!

About the author

In more then twenty years in journalism, Lisa Napoli has managed to work for almost every major

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