Keeping an Updated Will

A will gives a person the chance to clearly state their wishes, and they can have the peace of mind that these wishes must happen when they die.

Estate planning can feel overwhelming or even unnecessary in your 20s or 30s. However, keeping an updated will is a crucial part of estate planning as you age. If you don’t have an updated will, it is time to call your attorney to make it happen. But what can you do if your aging parent or loved one doesn’t have an updated will? Having that conversation can prove to be tricky, but with the right knowledge about the estate planning process, and what can happen if there is not an updated will in place, you will be able to have a more productive conversation.

What is a will?

A will is a document that designates what happens to your estate when you die. You may think of a will as a way to give property or large amounts of money to your family members, but a will can also include instructions of who gets sentimental items as well, like favorite plates or even photographs.

For people who have minor children, a will can also serve to designate who will become guardian. On the other hand, for people who don’t have minor children, a detailed will can prevent disagreement or even conflict between adult children about certain important items. Essentially, a will gives the person control of what happens after they die.

Many young parents in their 20s or 30s do not have a will, but a will is a smart idea at any age. More importantly, as your parent ages an updated will becomes even more vital.

Who is involved in a will?

A will begins with the person, or the testator. This is the person that is making the decisions about property and other sentimental items. While it is not imperative that you use a lawyer to draw up your will, many people find working with an estate-planning lawyer to be a helpful experience. Your lawyer can provide guidance with all aspects of estate planning, not just the will, and can be a valuable resource when it comes to complex questions. Further, the lawyer can easily update your will as your wishes change.

Your will identifies an executor, someone you designate to see that your wishes happen after your death. Depending on your situation, you may choose a spouse or partner to be your executor, or a child or grandchild. If you don’t have a family member or trusted friend in mind, you can ask your lawyer to be the executor of your will as well. This role is an important one and can be in charge of multiple transactions after your death. Choose this person wisely, and make sure that the executor knows their role before confirming it in your will. This is not a role someone wants to be surprised with!

How can I ask if my parents have a will?

It can feel uncomfortable asking if your aging parent has a will, but it is an important question nonetheless. If you feel anxious about asking about a will, you can enlist the help of your siblings. This teamwork approach can decrease any feelings of jealousy or eliminate confrontation later.

If you do not know if there is an updated will, the best approach is an honest one. Simply ask if there is an updated will, and when it was last updated. For some seniors, their will could be twenty years old. In these cases, the executor may no longer be alive (such as a deceased spouse), or there may not be correct instructions in regards to property or other items. New family members, such as great-grandchildren, may not be named in an outdated will either. Generally speaking, it is good practice to revisit the will every few years or when something significant occurs. These events could include a marriage or divorce, a birth in the family, or a major change in property.

If you discover there is no will, or that a will is outdated, encourage your loved one to make an appointment with their attorney to make any adjustments. An attorney is not required, as there are many will do-it-yourself kits available online. If your loved one goes this route, it is imperative that the will meets the requirements for the state where they reside. If there are multiple pieces of property or other complex situations, it is best to work with an attorney.

Finally, if you discover there is a current will, make sure you know where it is kept. Some people keep a will in a safe, designated spot in the home. Others choose to keep it in the bank or in the office of their attorney. In any case, it is wise to know where the will is in order to access it after death.

What happens if my parent dies without a will in place?

Sometimes, there is no will in place when a senior dies. In this case, a judge names the executor of the estate. State laws in determining what to do with the estate bind this administrator. While the administrator acts responsibly and fairly, any wishes spoken by the deceased person will not necessarily be met. The process can be extremely emotional for the living loved ones, and it can take a long time. Further, the estate of the deceased person may have to pay the administrator for services in executing the will. All in all, dying without a will is not ideal for anyone involved.

A will gives a person the chance to clearly state their wishes, and they can have the peace of mind that these wishes must happen when they die. Your loved one should have a will that designates an executor who is aware of that role, and that has been updated in the past few years. If this is not the case, encourage that process to happen sooner than later.

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