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How Important is it to Have a Will? (online only)
October 2011
By Dr. Marion Somers

How important is it to have a will? Jeremy in Georgia, 67

A will is a crucial document that must be taken care of well in advance of the end of your elderís life. Do not allow your elder to die intestate (without a will). When your elder doesnít have a will, the state may take over. It can become very complicated, and youíre sure to lose a hefty percentage of the true value of the estate. By making a will and assigning power of attorney, an elder will feel comforted that his/her wishes will be carried out.

Wills are often changed, so be ready to execute more than one document over time. And remember, anytime someone signs a will, there must be a witness. The original should be kept with the lawyer, and a copy should be included with your elderís other legal documents.

Complications also arise when a second family or step-family is involved. All variables should be well thought out, such as who is included and not included in the will. One way to leave someone out of a will is to give them $1 exactly. This way, they canít say they were overlooked or that your elder was incompetent. A plan was put in place to include them. Iíve seen this happen far too frequently. Anyone who contests a will can hold up the process for years, even if they have limited legal grounds to stand on.

Itís very important to appoint the right person as executor or executrix of the will. Your elder must have confidence that he or she will carry out the full instructions of the will. Often, the executor of a will has retired or died or moved or is otherwise unreachable. This is one reason why the executor is usually a family member, a trusted family friend, or a lawyer. Someone must be named as the beneficiary to your elderís estate or it will be left to the state. Sadly, Iíve seen this happen many times, and family members can do little except deal with their shock.

Donít draft your elderís will yourself or allow him/her to do it either. If a will is not prepared in accordance with state laws, it could easily be challenged by other heirs and family members who are unhappy with its contents. This leaves the estate open to hefty legal fees and prolonged, maneuvers that could have easily been avoided.

A word about taxes. When a will is executed after someone has passed away, the executor has the responsibility to pay all of the bills and taxes before the heirs can be paid. What most donít understand, even many executors, is that the law allows only nine months to pay the taxes for the estate that is being probated. After nine months of non-payment, additional fines and penalties are imposed on the estate. So make sure this is handled well ahead of time to lessen any loss to your elderís estate.

Over the last 40 years, Dr. Marion (Marion Somers, Ph.D.) has worked with thousands of seniors and their caregivers as a geriatric care manager and elder care expert. It is now her goal to help caregivers everywhere through her book (ďElder Care Made Easier\"), iPhone apps (www.elder911.net) web site, columns, public service announcements, and more. For more information, visit www.DrMarion.com


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