Aging Parents: Possessions, Money, Handwritten Wills part 2

We read about high net-worth people’s contested wills, be it the Astors, or other wealthy people. Indeed, just last month one of these high-profile contested cases, a will contested by two daughters, made the British press. But whether it’s high net-worth people, or modest-income people, family fractures are too often the norm.

If we want our money and possessions to go to specific people or organizations after we die, or our parents want certain people or organizations to inherit specific amounts of money or certain possessions, a well-thought-out and well-written will is the best chance to make this happen, regardless of one’s net worth. Did you know a large per cent of the population dies without having a will? (Information from Sr. Advisor, trusts and estates attorney RHW, Esq.) Did you know a will can be handwritten and legally valid?

This kind of will is called a holographic will. Some call them “emergency wills” but they need not be written under emergency conditions. They can be written because people don’t want to go to the trouble and expense of using a lawyer.

That said, in an emergency, when time is of the essence and the client has no will, RHW Esq., often won’t let that person leave the office without making a handwritten (holographic) will on the spot. In all cases these wills are handwritten by the testator (the maker of the will).

While RHW, Esq. tells us “a handwritten will is the most respected in the legal profession,” there are a few necessary components for it to be valid:
1.  It needs to be signed.
2.  It needs to be dated

It also–
3.  should contain the following sentence: “I appoint……… serve as executor without bond.”

4.  a copy must be sent to the executor (also called personal representative).

It should be written on a blank piece of paper and preferably in blue ink. Reason for the blue ink: It’s often hard to tell black ink from a copy and will incur legal fees to validate after the testator has died.

Having the will signed by one or two witnesses is not a requirement in many states, but may make validation easier.

A holographic will costs nothing. What it does take is thinking about how a person wants his or her assets to be distributed after death. Without a will, the law of the state is in effect and assets may not be given as the deceased would have wanted. Check  links below for details (i.e. states that accept holographic wills, potential problems to be aware of–like ambiguities.)

A holographic will, if done properly, works for those with limited funds, those averse to using a lawyer, and those whose death seems imminent. Handwritten wills are legal. Clearly they’re a better option than letters saying so-and-so should get Aunt Millie’s tea-pot, which may not have any more validity than a parent’s verbal promise.

In an ideal world, before serious aging issues set in, RHW, Esq. prefers clients discuss their wills with adult children. Yet this is not necessarily what parents want to do–or what children want to hear about. In these cases he suggests parents prepare and sign a letter stating their rationale for who inherits what. This letter should be kept with important papers, in an envelope with “Not to Be Opened Until My Death” written on the envelope. This kind of letter appears to be relevant in the contested will case cited at the beginning of this post. (The boyfriend was willed more than the daughters.)

The will has the power to leave people happy or distressed. As we try to help parents age well–and avoid family strife after they’re gone–the holographic will could be the answer.

Is a Handwritten Will Legally Valid?

Model for holographic wills  Note: this site also lists the states where holographic wills are not accepted.

This site makes us aware of problems that a handwritten will could easily encounter—-as does this site. Google “holographic wills” for additional specifics.

Aging Parents: Their Possessions, Their Money– Now and After Death

What is it that fractures families after parents die?
Reducing the risk


 When I was around 21 years of age, I remember going to the new home of my boyfriend’s friend, Pete. Pete lived at home with his mother–a somewhat zany, delightful, divorced, Aunty-Mame-type. I’ll always remember entering that home (she wasn’t there). Her son laughingly pointed out the little notes with her children’s names affixed to the back of her paintings and other valued possessions.

After 3 divorces and three children from two fathers–in retrospect–wasn’t she  smart about making her final wishes known–at least for these important possessions? Who was to inherit what, was no secret. But this is unusual.

*              *            *
Emotional Attachments

More common is the emotional attachment adult children have to certain items that parents may–or may not–be aware of. And, of course, there are “different strokes for different folks.”

–Aunt Millie’s tea-pot. I remember a colleague’s concern that a tea-pot that had been passed down in the family not go to her brother, but rather to one specific daughter of her brother. She was adamant. It was in her will.

–On the other hand I was given my grandmother’s engagement ring and have no idea whether family members were aware of it. As a little girl I played “dress up” with any jewelry (valuable or not) I could find in a jewelry box. I could be in my pajamas adorned with jewelry–clothes didn’t matter. I’m guessing my grandmother knew I loved jewelry.

–Yet my brother and I were directed to share all of our parents’ possessions and/or proceeds from their sale. We didn’t like the same things. That worked well for us.

Is it crass for children to mention things they hope to inherit from aging parents?

Talking about and even thinking about death is uncomfortable for many parents and their adult children. That said: If it’s a comfortable conversation–meaning if we feel comfortable talking about loving a parent’s possession–being proactive is fine. Chances are we’ll express this well and the conversation will go well. It’s when we aren’t comfortable talking about something that our chance for success plummets and we need to try some other way or leave things to chance.

Sr. Advisor RHW, Esq., still-practicing trusts and estates attorney, advises his clients who don’t want to have end-of-life conversations with their children to put their intentions in writing (specifics in next post). Here’s the flip-side:

Explain about our love of/desire for a certain object in a handwritten note. Some of us express ourselves better in writing. Also important is getting the note to parents at an appropriate time; clearly we don’t want to wait until the last-minute when a parent is no longer “with it” or when it would be considered an insensitive time.

Other option: Do nothing.

Next post: THE MONEY  While acrimony caused by monetary wealth can be a media event when it concerns people of high net worth, many ordinary families face the same nastiness. We  just don’t hear about it.