Ethan R. Okura
Hawai‘i Herald Columnist
How many of you have not yet drawn up your last will and testament? How about your adult children or grandchildren? There are many reasons that people not have a will: You don’t want to think about dying; you’re afraid of how much it’s going to cost you; you’re unsure of who to name as your beneficiaries or personal representative. The most common reason I hear is: “I just haven’t gotten around to it yet.”
While our own death is undoubtedly an unpleasant subject to think about, a will is one of the most important documents any person will ever sign in their lives. Think about that for a minute. Your will determines who will take ownership of your home, your car, your bank accounts — every possession you have acquired in your life. And, more importantly, it dictates who will become the guardian of your minor children should you and your spouse pass away.
I won’t get into the technical details of the law in this column. Rather, I will share examples of actual clients who passed away without their will and estate plan in place.
Won’t the Law Automatically Leave Assets to My Family When I Die?
When you pass away without a will, your estate must generally go through intestate probate. Intestate means “without a last will and testament.” Here’s an example: There was a man who immigrated to Hawai‘i with his wife from the Philippines. They had three children and bought a home here in Hawai‘i. After his wife passed away, he returned to the Philippines and, in his 90s, married a second time — this time to a (much) younger woman — younger than his children. He had life insurance and savings that he wanted to leave to his new wife, who had never been to Hawai‘i. He wanted to leave his Hawai‘i home to his three children from his first marriage — they were still in Hawai‘i. After he passed away without a will, his new wife received the financial accounts and life insurance proceeds, as she was the named beneficiary. At first, she agreed to let her husband’s three children keep her husband’s Hawai‘i house. She later changed her mind, however, and decided to pursue every claim she could under the law.
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OKURA & ASSOCIATES, 2016
Honolulu Office (808) 593-8885
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Ethan R. Okura received his doctor of jurisprudence degree from Columbia University in 2002. He specializes in estate planning to protect assets from nursing home costs, probate, estate taxes and creditors.
This column is for general information only. The facts of your case may change the advice given. Do not rely on the information in this column without consulting an estate planning specialist.