Montana State University

Spring 2016

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Mountains and Minds

The power of planning May 10, 2016 • Published 05/10/16

If you are a Montanan with a question about wills or how to avoid probate, chances are you have run into Marsha Goetting. In the last year the Montana State University Extension family economics specialist traveled nearly 7,000 miles to 48 communities in the Big Sky state to teach free courses in estate planning to more than 1,378 Montanans. It’s a labor of love for Goetting, who in nearly 40 years as a MSU Extension specialist has built a national reputation for providing vital information about estate planning.

What are some of the most popular questions about estate planning?

The most popular topic has been what happens to your property if you die without a written will, as do seven out of 10 Montanans.

What is the number one most important piece of advice that you give to those who attend your seminars?

Do your estate planning now. We are all going to die someday, so we might as well be prepared so that those we want to receive our assets do indeed receive them.

What estate planning topics do people seem to know the least about?

Here are three:

Right of Representation. Under Montana’s intestacy (dying without a will) statutes, property is distributed by right of representation. Some wills and trusts have similar provisions. I have found that 92 percent of the members of my audience have answered a question incorrectly about how their property would be distributed if they should die.

Death Taxes. When asked what percent of Montanans paid an inheritance tax in 2014, usually from 65 to 90 percent indicate that all those who inherit property have to pay. What a surprise to learn that there is no longer an inheritance tax in Montana! A spouse, children, grandchildren or friends do not pay a Montana inheritance tax when they inherit property. When asked what percent of Montana’s deceased persons’ estates paid a federal estate tax in 2014, again, the majority respond with 65 to 100 percent. They are shocked to learn that less than one percent of Montana’s deceased person’s estates paid a tax in 2014.

Avoiding probate. One of the most popular topics in my presentations has been how property could be distributed without probate by using payable on death designations on checking accounts and certificates of deposit or transfer on death registrations on stocks, bonds or mutual funds.

What actions do people plan to take after attending one of your sessions?

After attending a presentation, here’s what attendees say they will do:
15 percent intend to write a will in their own handwriting
30 percent indicated they are going to review their wills
38 percent will see an attorney about executing a will
94 percent plan to discuss estate planning with a spouse and/or family members    
90 percent indicated they are going to review their property ownership titles
91 percent plan to review their beneficiary designations on their assets
And, 99 percent indicate they will recommend my presentation to others. ■