For many people who have straightforward property ownership and straightforward plans for how they want the property they own divided when they die, a will may be sufficient to do
cover that task. This is true because many assets, such as retirement funds and often bank and other accounts, can pass directly to others through other arrangements, such as joint ownership or a pay-on-death designation. So they are not considered part of a person’s estate when they die.
But wills only take care of how property is managed and divided at death. They do not cover a whole host of other concerns broadly thought of as “estate planning” matters, such as what medical care should be administered if a person is not able to direct it (that happens in an advance directive), who should make financial decisions if a person becomes legally incapable (the beauty of powers of attorney for finances) or whether a person should be buried or cremated (which can be specified in written final arrangements).
The biggest problem here seems to be a lack of communication. You can’t really be sure that this woman who is in your dad’s life has real knowledge about what he did or didn’t do to get his affairs in order—or that she is giving you the straight scoop.
Since you and your sister are likely to be the ones dealing with decisions about your dad’s medical, financial, and personal care, it seems worth the while to brave another discussion with him about it. Emphasize that you have his best interests at heart—and are most concerned that his wishes be protected and carried out. At a minimum, you may be able to convince him to get his papers organized—stock certificates, bank account numbers and such—so that nothing gets lost or overlooked.
It may act as a conversation buffer to present a list of questions such as 6 Estate Planning Questions Your Parents Should Answer6 Estate Planning Questions Your Parents Should Answer.
Or it may help to bring in another person for advice and counsel. For example, if your father has in fact consulted an attorney for help, he or she should be willing to sit down with you, your sister, and your father to make sure all his legal bases are covered—but your father would first have to consent to such a discussion.