Wills are a subject that nobody wants to discuss. But almost everyone should have a Will. Attorney Jason Ponder discusses the practical side of Wills, what they can do for you, and why you may want one. Watch this in-depth, candid discussion of how a Will can benefit most people.
Why Do I Need a Will ?
Our specialized content, video, and other informative media are based on input from Ayo and Iken team members, outside guests, former team members of Ayo and Iken, independent journalists, and subject-matter authorities. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the official position of Ayo and Iken. Attorneys that are not current team members at Ayo and Iken may be reached though their member listing on the Florida Bar website: www.flabar.org
Howard Iken: Hi, this is Howard Iken and we’re going to our legal information studios to talk with attorney Jason Ponder. Today Jason is going to talk about wills and just why you may need a will made out by a competent attorney. We’re going to start with the most obvious question of all, “Why should someone have a will?”
Jason Ponder: That question is posed to me every single time someone walks in. It’s important to have a will even if you don’t think you have anything, because it allows you to dictate what happens to your things, that you’ve worked so hard over your lifetime to acquire, when you are gone.
Howard Iken: All right, I got to tell you, I really don’t want to think about myself dying. I really don’t want to talk with family members in those kinds of terms, and, to be honest with you, talking about a will makes me think about all that and talk about that. How does that seem to affect people?
Jason Ponder: People are not, obviously, eager to talk about that …
Howard Iken: No, absolutely not.
Jason Ponder: … the end game, but what’s important to understand is, it shows that you’re cognizant of the fact that you need to take care of your affairs. When you do this, you are letting yourself and your loved ones know that you care. If you …
Howard Iken: Hang on, isn’t a will only really good if you have children you want to take care of?
Jason Ponder: Absolutely not. A will can dictate where you want your things to go even if you have no family left. Okay, I’ve seen people that have generated a will, in which they’ve given whatever they may own, they’ve had it sold and they’ve given it to a charity of their choice. It’s not just for certain types of people, it’s for everyone.
Howard Iken: You’re talking about what you own and where it goes to. What if I’m just some clueless, 20 year old and I own nothing?, and, let me tell you, I owned nothing when I was 20 years old. Would I have wanted a will back then? Was there any reason for me to have one?
Jason Ponder: There’s definitely a reason for you to have one, because the wills are not about what you have now, it’s what you may acquire now and in the future. What you are actually doing is preparing for success in the future, unless you’re successful at this very point, because you have nothing, or you think you have nothing. You do have assets, every single thing you own has value and every single thing you own will need to be disposed of. Why not you choose what happens to them?
Howard Iken: Do most people have wills?
Jason Ponder: Seventy percent of people do not have wills.
Howard Iken: Does that end up a problem with some of them when that time comes?
Jason Ponder: It absolutely does, because it triggers the nasty work and the nasty process of probate. Probate is a determination of what happens to your things when you haven’t told people what happens to your things. A gentleman, a judge, which is very costly by the way, will determine, since you did not give us any directives, here’s where we think it should go, per the law.
Howard Iken: All right, so you mentioned probate. Can you give a really quick description of what that is exactly, so we know what the alternative is?
Jason Ponder: Absolutely. That is a court, taking all of the things that you have gathered, your debts, your liabilities, your assets, everything you own, and saying, “Hey, we need to make sure that these go somewhere”, because they don’t go with you.
Howard Iken: That’s if you don’t have a will, let me just clarify.
Jason Ponder: Absolutely, and it can be if you do have a will. If you forgot something under your will, or you have not titled a certain thing, it will still have to go to probate, even though you have a will.
Howard Iken: All right, so, if you have a will, you don’t need to do probate, if you remember everything. Is that what I’m understanding?
Jason Ponder: If you make provisions for everything, there is a chance that you will not have to go through the probate process, correct … Or possibly, a simplified probate process.
Howard Iken: What I’m hearing, all this, simple versus complex … Is probate expensive?
Jason Ponder: It’s very expensive.
Howard Iken: Is a will expensive?
Jason Ponder: Wills are not expensive, it’s a lot less expensive than a probate.
Howard Iken: I think I’m hearing you say, if you have a will, it’s a way to save money. You’re really not saving money because your children and your spouse are the ones who benefit from the will. Do they save money?
Jason Ponder: Absolutely, because it’s not going to be you who’s funding the probate. It’s going to be the family member that’s having to tell the court, “He didn’t tell us, or she didn’t tell us, what to do with this stuff, we need you do that.”
Howard Iken: What is the process to getting a will made?
Jason Ponder: The process is, you sit down with me and I offer a free consultation, and I ask you about what’s involved. What’s your current situation?, because everyone’s situation is different. Once I evaluate what you have, and what you don’t have … In your case if you’re a 20 year old … I can better direct you as to where, at this point in time, you need to be, so that also in the future when you gain things, things are taken care of.
A sit down with me for 30 minutes, I have a brief questionnaire that’s filled out, and by that I give you a road map of what I feel, based upon your circumstance, is the best course of action. Again, a will, if you come into my office, you sit down with me, there’s no reason why we can’t have it done in a week.
Howard Iken: All right, not ashamed to say, before I became an attorney, everything I know about wills came from the movies. I’m sure you’ve seen this too, I’m sure everyone has seen this. Every time in a movie, where someone passes on, there’s a scene where a lawyer … Stuffed the old lawyer in a very over priced looking office … Is sitting at the desk reading the will and there’s family members, and some of them are frowning, some of them are cursing, some of them are happy, and they do this whole scene around the reading of the will. Does that really happen in real life?
Jason Ponder: It has happened. I have had it happen, but it’s not commonplace. It’s not every single will. It’s not every single time, and again, most of the time, the butler doesn’t get all the money.
Howard Iken: I was going to follow up with that. The butler seems to get the money, unless there’s a maid of course, or unless there’s a family dog. I think you’re saying a lot of that in the movies is just that, movie material.
Jason Ponder: Absolutely.
Howard Iken: In reality, who are the most common beneficiaries of a will?
Jason Ponder: Children and spouses.
Howard Iken: Does it do a good job protecting them, or doing something for them later on?
Jason Ponder: It absolutely does. When you have a will, and this is one thing I think is important, especially with families, you can dictate through you will, if something were to happen to you and your spouse, who you want to take care of your children. Okay, you can actually set up a pseudo guardianship …
Howard Iken: Wait a minute there, hold on. Now you’re not talking about money anymore, you’re telling me you can actually direct where your children go, through a will?
Jason Ponder: That’s what I’m telling you. When everyone has this preconceived notion that wills are about where does my stuff go, and it is a portion of that, but there’s other things wills do. One of those things, that’s very beneficial to a family is, “Hey, if something happens to me, and something happens to my wife, where are my children going?” Okay, you can set up a guardianship, or say, this is who I want to be the guardians of my children.
Howard Iken: Okay, so you can do something for your children to arrange their future for them
Jason Ponder: Absolutely.
Howard Iken: How about the family dog?
Jason Ponder: The family dog, and again, you’ve probably seen situations where, even in celebrity type of situations, where they’ve left money and trusts for dogs.
Howard Iken: I’ve seen it on TV and movies, and both [real 00:08:37] , where the dogs actually become wealthy after.
Jason Ponder: Absolutely, and again, that’s more along the trusts lines, because you want something to be funded, not just immediately, but at certain points in time … But, yes, you can be very open in your will and very honest. A lot of the times I like to ask people … Which obviously brings up a subject no one wants to talk about … What do you want done when you pass? Do you have a special request? Do you want to be buried? Do you have a family plot? What do you want to happen? A will can direct your family members, so they don’t have to guess as to what you would like to happen.
Howard Iken: Well, actually, I don’t want to be buried, I don’t want to go anywhere, and I want to keep my money, but I think you’re saying, that’s not really practical and I really need to do some planning.
Jason Ponder: Absolutely, unless you know, and you’ve told someone, this is exactly what I want to happen, and everybody in your family knows, there’s going to be strife.
Howard Iken: If I actually make a will, is that something that’s public record? Can people look up my will?
Jason Ponder: It’s only public record if you make it public record. If you were to make a will, and this is common, and people want to have it published, so they will place it in the clerk of court, in a deposit type of situation, it can be made public. If you have done a good job in your will, and you’ve covered all your bases, it never has to get filed and it never has to become public.
Howard Iken: I also … And I’m sorry, I need to quote the movies again … A lot of movies, someone can’t find a will and they spend half the movie looking for the will, or you see a villain actually hide the will. Does that happen in real life?
Jason Ponder: Okay, the original will is very important in the state of Florida. That will need to be the one, if it’s to be submitted, will be the one that the court enters okay. There are, however, situations where only a copy can be found. If that …
Howard Iken: Are you out of luck at that point?
Jason Ponder: You are not out of luck at that point, because there is a process by which you can have somebody appointed, that will swear or affirm, one of the witnesses or the notary, that I was there, when I signed this, this is the will as I remember it, when it was signed, and that can be used to authenticate a copy.
Howard Iken: Okay, so there is a way to use a copy of a will, but I assume it’s not the best way.
Jason Ponder: It’s not the best, the not the easiest.
Howard Iken: Where’s the best place to keep a will, the original, after you make one?
Jason Ponder: My clients get two options. They can keep it in a safety deposit box at their own place, and just notify family members that if something happens to me, that’s where to find it, or we offer the option that they can actually keep it with us. Again, they can provide information regarding our firm, if something happens to me, these are the people that have my testamentary documents.
Howard Iken: Is this something you actually enjoy, making wills for people?
Jason Ponder: I do, I think it’s the most important thing a person can do.
Howard Iken: Even though people are coming in and talking about the ultimate end, everyone who comes in to you talking about that, you do enjoy working with them.
Jason Ponder: I do enjoy it and the clients appreciate it, because when they’re done and they know they have set up a comprehensive estate plan, or set up a will, that they know they can go to bed knowing everything has been set up and is going to be taken care of. It’s a weight lifted off their shoulders.
Howard Iken: Is this something someone can come in and actually discuss with you before they do an actual will?
Jason Ponder: Absolutely. Again, any questions you might have, and again, you’re asking me questions, there’s millions of questions people have. The most important thing to get yourself to the point where you can actually do this, is to be comfortable with what you’re doing. A lot of the fear is driven by not knowing what’s going on and what it’s used for. When people are given the chance to learn about the reasons we’re doing this and the reasons it can help you, you get to a situation where they’re ready to do it.
Howard Iken: Last question, let’s say you come in and make a will, and you help someone do that, and sometime before their actual end, they realize they really didn’t put in there everything they want, or a family member or friend falls out of favor, can that be changed?
Jason Ponder: It absolutely can and it’s called a codicil. Okay.
Howard Iken: Okay and what happens if someone else … And last time I mention this, I’m sorry, I see this in the movies … Where people are waving several different versions of a will. How is that taken into account, and how is that sorted out?
Jason Ponder: The last one in time controls. Once a new will is executed, the other ones do not exist, that will controls.
Howard Iken: All right. Is there anything else you feel is important to add?
Jason Ponder: I think it’s extremely important to understand that, speaking about these issues is uncomfortable, but dealing with these issues is more important. You want to be able to allow yourself and your family to know that when you go, they’re still taken care of.
Howard Iken: All right, well thank you very much and hopefully we can have you back, talking about wills some more and again, we really appreciate it Jason.
Jason Ponder: Thank you so much.
Howard Iken: Thank you.