Tax season is here and while you may no longer have to participate in this dreaded annual event, it’s as good a time as ever to review your estate planning. The main document that you should have is a will. So, what is the Importance of a Will for Seniors?
While nobody relishes thinking about why you need a will, the argument for having one outweighs any resistance. Simply put, a will designates how you legally distribute your estate after death.
While you and your spouse or partner might have a general idea of who gets what, the documentation of the process is mandatory. If you don’t have a will, your estate will go through probate. That is a process where the court reviews your estate, its worth, amounts owed to creditors, and other liabilities. This process can be lengthy and costly.
The first bit of good news is that those assets, such as retirement accounts or insurance policies, where you have a designated beneficiary, don’t need to be included in your will. And while it may seem obvious that assets such as real estate or savings should be in your will, many people overlook the little things, like family heirlooms, jewelry, or collections, which are frequently, more widely-contested by survivors than money! So, you, who will be the decedent, must spell this out very clearly in your will. To maintain harmony within the family, you could have family meetings where your children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, etc., can hash out who wants and gets what.
Another way to get around issues with potentially disgruntled family members is to include a “no-contest” clause in your will. Hey, it was good enough for Frank Sinatra!
In addition to a surviving spouse/partner, children, and other family members, your will may need to address the following:
- Pet care (some people set up a trust for the care of their surviving pets or designate a new owner)
- Church contribution
- Community contribution
- Contributions to your alma mater(s)
- Contributions to charitable foundations or organizations
- And more
You should also designate an executor for your estate. This can be a family member (but tread lightly and choose carefully), a trusted friend, or a former business associate. The executor will carry out such functions as paying off any debts, closing bank accounts, presenting the death certificate as evidence as required, and conducting other miscellaneous business on behalf of the decedent. Typically, the executor receives a small stipend from the estate or family for performing these services.
Now, you may have seen ads for do-it-yourself legal services or seen “will kits” at the office supply store. This might seem like a simpler and less expensive option to having an attorney draft your will. While, technically, this is true, the document might not hold up in court. Each state has very specific laws regarding estates and wills, and a one-size-fits-all will might not be valid. In the long-run, and especially if you have a more complicated will, the attorney’s fees will offset what your heirs would spend on court fees if your will gets tied-up in probate. If you don’t have an attorney, ask your neighbors or staff in your community for recommendations. You can also look online for a local estate planning attorney with good reviews.
You’ve worked hard all your life and deserve to have your assets distributed according to your wishes upon your death; making sure that your family and loved ones are provided for. Taking a few steps now will give you and your family the peace of mind you need.
While you’re reviewing your assets, ask yourself if you really need to still be maintaining a house and yard. Retirement is the perfect time to consider downsizing.