There is a growing trend in this country to undermine the sanctity and significance of the act of making a will which is a by-product of the fast-paced computer age in which we live.
We see evidence of it all around us. The teller at our local bank hands us a form in small print and asks us to “sign here” to open a joint account or safe deposit box with a family member. The insurance salesman asks, “Who do you want as the beneficiary of this policy?” and then writes down our response on a piece of paper which is submitted to the company and is buried in the final policy we receive at a later time.
Our employer asks us to list the beneficiary of our retirement plan benefits. The title company representative asks us whether we want more than one name on the deed to property we are acquiring.
These acts, although innocuous in and of themselves, are each destructive of the consummate act of making a will and may operate so as to defeat the intentions of the individual as expressed in his will.
Such inconsistences between the terms of a person’s will and the way in which he actually owns property often result in the payment of additional estate taxes, the failure of bequests for family members and increase the likelihood of will contests, particularly in families of second marriages.
And because these arrangements bypass a person’s will and yet result in the passage of property at death, they are themselves considered as will substitutes. In trust for (ITF) bank accounts and joint safe deposit boxes have long been considered “poor man’s will” for the reason that they take the place of a will do not involve the probate and are, therefore, an inexpensive way to pass on property at death.
Encouraging the growth of these will substitute devices is the growing fear of probate – fear of the unknown cost, expense, delay and inconvenience of the court process of providing a person’s last will and testament, clearing title to his assets and passing them on to his family.
Many exaggerations exist as to lawyer’s fees, delays caused by litigation between family members fueding over the assets and the amount of taxes paid to settle the estate.