Senior Center

Writing a Will: The Best Time is Now

By Jan Bolder - March 6, 2014

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Nobody likes to think about their own death, even though it happens to all of us. But leaving this world unprepared and expecting our family members to handle the messy details places an unfair burden on them, and can be easily avoided by writing a clear will.

Assets

Before you can even start thinking about writing a will, you need to know exactly what's going in it and where it'll be distributed. Take time to assess the value of everything you own, and start with bigger items first (e.g. car, house, boat, investments, jewelry, etc.) before moving onto smaller, more personal items.

When listing your assets, you can either hire a lawyer to do all the paperwork, or create your own online. Software programs have become rather sophisticated and simple to use, often with nothing more than just typing in the type of asset and its value. Even seniors who struggle financially should assess all their assets, no matter how few.

Pick the Right Form

Each state has its own variations on the legal issues surrounding wills, so make sure you get the right one. It'll ask you to fill out basic information like marital status and the names of your beneficiaries, which is something you can do or hire a lawyer to walk you through it. With your form, you also need to pick an executor‐someone who will act on your behalf to carry out your wishes.

Choose Witnesses

Typically, signing your will has to be done in the presence of at least two witnesses, with all three parties signing in each other's presence. A will is a highly sensitive and binding document, and the government has specified at least two witnesses so there's no confusion. The will also has to be notarized, so don't forget that step.

The main purpose of two witnesses is to verify you're creating the will of sound mind and not under mental, physical or emotional duress. You're free to do what you want with your assets—notable wealthy people have left their pets millions of dollars—but the witnesses must be there to acknowledge you know what you're doing, even if you leave all your money to a Maltese and not to your family members.

Tips to Keep in Mind

 

  • You have to be the age of majority (18, in most states) to write a will
  • You must be of sound mind and judgement for the will to be considered valid (e.g. a senior with Stage 5 Alzheimer's wouldn't qualify)
  • You must state on the will that you're writing your own will, and not that someone else is
  • You must name an executor, and the executor cannot have been convicted of a felony
  • A will only needs two witnesses to be considered valid, although notarizing it is a good idea
  • Several copies of your will should be made, with each one stored in a safe place where others know to find it
  • For more information, visit http://www.usa.gov/topics/money/personal-finance/wills.shtml