Wills – the Good and the Bad
Simply put, a will is a blueprint for distributing your assets and property when you die. Another trusted person, known as the executor, is appointed to oversee your will. The executor is responsible to ensure that when you’re gone, all your wishes are carried out as outlined in the will.
Howard Hughes, the billionaire playboy, died in 1976 without a will. His estate, worth $2 billion (about $9 billion today) was settled in Texas in a probate court in,1982. The estate was shared by 22 cousins in 1983.
Where should you keep your Will?
We have all seen movies that include a missing will. Those tales can be funny and sometimes lead to murder. Putting those scenarios aside, where would you look for a will? Older folks sometimes believe they need to hide important papers. Maybe your dad is an inventive guy and found a clever “hidey-hole” somewhere in the house or garage.
Or perhaps grandma was like a family friend of mine, I’ll call her Dee. She was a hoarder but she had made a will through her attorney. When Dee passed the only copy of the will was in her small home but Dee had hidden it. Her attorney and a close friend got together and searched, but it was to no avail.
Now, Dee enjoyed going to tarot card readers and psychics even though she was a highly-educated woman. Her two friends decided to contact Dee’s favorite psychic. Moving through the house slowly, the psychic noticed that a rocking chair moved ever so slowly when they got near the utility room. Darling Dee had secured her valuable papers, cash, and small items in a fire-proof box under the water heater.
Unbelievable? I assure you that this is true.
You and your family would know best where to look if you believe there is a will. If you are unable to find the will, these are some ideas to investigate:
- Safe deposit boxes
- County courthouses, some states allow filing a will
- Attorneys the deceased used; past and present
- Relatives and close friends of the deceased
- Storage units
- Search personal items: clothing, shoes, purses, any containers such as jewelry boxes, photo albums, picture frames, undersides of furniture
Copies and drafts of Wills
If you find a copy, but not the original, lots of questions arise. Was the original destroyed? If so, by whom? Perhaps you find an old version or multiple copies with deletions, cross-outs, pages missing, no signatures or lack of witnesses, or different dates. You will have to consult a lawyer to help sort it out. The final decision will probably be left to the court.
When a person dies without a will it is called Intestate. When this happens each state has its own set of laws. These laws are used to create a will to determine which relatives get what property and how much of a share. This can be hugely different from what the deceased intended. It won’t matter that Uncle Oscar said Cousin Jeff could have his car. The state has its own rules as to who becomes executor if in fact they actually appoint one. It is costly for heirs.
Please consider these scenarios when creating your will. I suggest you have a designated file with separate folders for all important legal and personal information. Write a letter of instruction to your executor on where to find it. Your surviving family will be so glad you organized everything for them.
5 Things You Shouldn’t Include in Your Will
- Funeral Plans
- Your “Digital Estate”
- Jointly Held Property*
- Life Insurance and Retirement Funds**
- Illegal Gifts and Requests
- *Deeds that transfer an asset to another person upon your death (transfer on death deed).
- *Joint ownership can be used as follows: “Property held in joint tenancy, tenancy by the entirety or community property with right of survivorship automatically passes to the survivor when one of the original owners dies. Real estate, bank accounts, vehicles, and investments can all pass this way. No probate is necessary to transfer ownership of the property.”
- **Beneficiaries listed on things like life insurance, pension funds, or annuities, or structured settlements. Each of these situations is governed by arrangements made at purchase when created. or when legally awarded.
Yes, the prospect of creating wills can be daunting, but Aging Takes Planning is here for you! Just go to our Resources page to see what we can help you with!