Seniors (& the Rest of Us) Need a Will

Most people, possibly including your senior loved ones, should have a will written to let everyone know what their intentions are for their belongings and assets. Do you know if your senior has created this document, what might be included, who will be responsible when the time comes, and where it is being kept?

You might be surprised to know that two out of five people over the age of 45 have not prepared a will or done any estate planning.  This is often a task that we don’t want to face.  We don’t want to think about our life coming to an end, as if planning for it will somehow make it happen faster.  Sometimes there may be disagreements in the family about what should be done and, in order to avoid these disagreements, the task goes undone.

Dying without a will may leave your possessions to be dispersed by a stranger working under the laws of your state without knowledge of your desires and your family, whose input may or may not be considered, could be powerless against the decisions made by the appointed administrator.

Who Needs a Will?

Therefore, writing a will is something that everyone should do — putting wishes onto paper for everyone to know and follow will actually make it easier for our survivors in the long run.  Your senior should be guided to create his or her will if it has not been done already and if she/he is still competent to execute one.  (If they are not competent legally but can still tell you their thoughts, write down who they want to give their favorite things to before it is too late.)

Will Considerations

Things to consider when assisting your senior to write his or her will:

  • Name the person your senior wants to handle his or her affairs: this is known as the executor.  This trusted person will be sure your senior’s wishes are upheld.  An executor can be responsible for paying your bills and handling any debt collectors.
  • Name the people to whom your senior wants each of his or her possessions to be given including things like house, car, hand made blankets, china, jewelry, photographs and any items your senior wants someone to have.  These people are called beneficiaries.
  • Your senior may want to execute any other directives at this time such as a living will if he or she has not already done this.
  • It is usually best to have separate wills and not combine with a spouse.
  • A witness will be needed who is not a beneficiary.  Some states may require two witnesses.   Some states also require wills to be notarized.
  • Store the original will in a safe place that is accessible to others besides just your senior, otherwise a court order might be needed to get it from a safe deposit box or other private place. The lawyer can keep a signed copy in case of emergency, but the original will still be required.
  • Update the will whenever a change occurs such as death of a spouse, divorce, relocation, retirement, remarriage, death of executor/beneficiary, or when new family members need to be added such as grandchildren or great-grandchildren.

Completing a Will

Wills and Living Wills are legal documents.  Some people use the services of a lawyer while others choose to prepare their own.  One potential middle ground is to utilize the services of a firm such as Legal Zoom, which is not a law firm but can guide you through the preparation process.  The links below will take you to the Legal Zoom site for more information and, if you choose, the opportunity to utilize their services.

One final thought for you as the caregiver:  Before you assist your senior with his or her will, create your own!  It is important that you have made specific instructions for how your senior will be cared for after you are no longer able to be there.  Your senior’s safety and security should be spelled out.

We encourage you to share your experiences with us and our readers.

8 thoughts on “Seniors (& the Rest of Us) Need a Will”

  1. I am 78 and my spouse is 85. We are a low income couple. We would not like to spend much money to get this done. We Would like to know what sources are available with less expense.

    • James and Mary, it is important to get your will and advance directives down on paper for those who may need them in an emergency. Many elder law attorneys can help complete these with a minimal amount of time as they are experts in the field. You can check them out in your area. There may be resources available through the Area on Aging agency near you. Some states provide free or reduced cost legal services so check that source out as well. Good luck!

  2. My Aunt is very aged and sick. She cannot be taken for the registration of her WILL.
    What is the procedure to request the authorities to visit her home and register Her WILL.
    Will any additional cost be required.

    • Anil, it is a good idea to get this paperwork completed before it is too late and she is not cognitively able to execute legal documents. We recommend you contact a few different places including local elder law attorneys who might do a house call or a virtual visit (Skype, etc) or call your local area on aging to get recommendations of professionals who might do this for her. Good luck!

    • Dorothy, congratulations to you for being proactive in getting the necessary documents in order. We always suggest using experts in your area who can guide you to execute legal documents that are clear, accurate and will support your wishes. We recommend elder law attorneys who know about the needs of people who are aging. Having a will for your possessions and assets, a living will for your medical wishes and a durable power of attorney so that you set an advocate to speak for your health and financial well-being if you are no longer able to do so is vital for us all. Good luck to you and your family!

  3. I have a will from Montana, but recently moved to Arizona I need to amend my will do to residence change. Everything else remains the same. Can I just write the changes on a separate piece of paper and have it notarized?

    • Good question Cressie. Many seniors will relocate to a different state and find that their advance directives (living will, DNR, healthcare proxy) as well as their wills are in need of updating. It is a good idea to seek some legal help to update your important documents for the state in which you currently live. We tend to overlook that detail until it is too late — good for you for thinking ahead. An elder law attorney is a good place to get all your legal paperwork updated and be sure you have all then important documents completed.

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