2005-06-02 / Savvy Senior

Savvy Senior


My mom and dad are both in the real estate business and have done pretty well financially but are getting older now. They are in their upper 60’s and they haven’t taken the time get a will done. My mom says she’s afraid to get a will or trust because she’s not ready to die yet. But with five siblings, two of them not speaking, I really don’t want the mess or complications of sorting things out after they die. Any advice?

Talked Out

Dear Talked,

Do you have a will drawn up for yourself? If not, get one, and show your mom that getting a will doesn’t necessarily guarantee instant death. But not getting one does guarantee you and your siblings a long, drawn-out mess. Also, keep in mind that you’re not alone. Over 40 percent of Americans over the age 50 don’t have a will, mostly due to procrastination. Here are some helpful things to know.

Basic Rules

If you die without a will, or some other legal method to transfer your assets, your state will determine who gets everything. In most states your assets will pass directly to your spouse or your child. If you’re not married and have no children, it will be distributed to your next of kin. If the courts cannot find your next of kin then your assets go to the state.

Most people can create their own wills without the help of a lawyer. With good self-help materials it’s easy to make a will that takes care of basic concerns, such as leaving a home, investments, a small business and personal items to your loved ones. Here are two good places to help you get started:

• Nolo: offers great information including Nolo’s Simple Will Book ($31.99), and a do-it-yourself computer software program called Quicken WillMaker Plus ($49.99). Visit www.nolo.com or call 800-728-3555.

• Wills.com is an estate planning Web site that can help you create your own will online ($29.99) or find an estate planning attorney in your area. Visit www.wills.com.

Savvy Tip: If you have a blended family or a complicated financial situation (property that is jointly owned) or if you have assets of more that $1.5 million, get help from a lawyer.

Simple instructions like who inherits your money, home, and other large assets, need only a will. But, if you want to attach various conditions, you might want to create a trust within your will.

Trusts are more complicated and expensive (between $750 and $2,000) to set up but can offer some nice advantages. Trusts allow your assets to go directly to your heirs without passing through probate. And some types of trusts can cut or eliminate estate taxes.

Siblings are more likely to fight over mom’s dishes and dad’s fishing pole than the money. So, consider making a list that spells out which personal items go to whom, sign and date the list, and attach a copy to your will.

It’s a good idea to review and update your will every two or three years, especially after any major life change, like a death, remarriage or if you move to a new state. Also, be sure to store your original will in a secure location, such as a safe deposit box. It’s also a good idea to keep a copy at home and give a copy to someone you trust, including your executor.

Savvy Resources

• EldersLawAnswers: Provides easy to understand legal information including a directory to help you locate an elder law attorney in your area. Visit www.elderlawanswers.com or call 866-296-5509

• Legal Hotlines: Sponsored by AARP and the U.S. Administration on Aging, they offer a state-by-state directory that provides free legal advice by telephone. Visit www.legalhotlines.org.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit www.savvysenior.org. Jim Miller is a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

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