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Wills and Why It's Important to Have One

A will is one of those things our parents always intend to do pass on assets, do but do not ever seem to find the time to do. Waiting until one is faced with having to write a will creates stress and undue pressure. Some people are very resistent to creating a will, illogically thinking it will bring bad luck.

When you are taking care of a parent and you know they do not have a will it may be sensitive topic to encourage them to do some estate planning and to write one. One way yto approach the situation is to suggest that you each write one. And, if you are the primary caregiver of a parent or other vulnerable adult, it is extremely important that you have procedures in place that will assure that your loved one is taken care of if you are no longer able to do so.

Having a will enables an individual designate exactly how he or she wants her property to be distributed and who he or she wants to administer the estate, known as the executor. After a person's death, the person's estate is "probated," a court proceeding in which the debts of the estate are settled and legal title to the property is passed to the heirs. Note that certain "jointly owned" propertysuch as life insurance, retirement plans and employee death benefits may not be part of the probate estate. It's important to have in-depth discussions with your parent regarding his or her finances, so you have a clear understanding of his or her estate and wishes regarding distribution

In drafting a will, be sure your parent:

  • Determines who will inherit real property and other financial assets
  • Determines who will inherit jewelry, art work and other personal property
  • Chooses an executor or executrix
  • Sign the document in front of two witnesses who also sign and date the document.
  • Store the will in a safe place

Wills can range from the very simple, prepared by the individual himself to those which are quite complex and drafted by an attorney. When there are significant assets and property, you and your parent will likely wnat to have an attorney to prepare the will so that both family and tax objectoves can be met. Laws regarding wills vary by state, so be sure to understand what rules apply in your state. Your local Agency on Aging and the American Bar Association can help you with the information you need.