Can a will alone cover my dad's estate planning needs?

2 answers | Last updated: Nov 15, 2016
Pyratejim asked...

My dad is a 73 year old widow who has some memory issues. My sister and I have been after him to get his will, power of attorney, etc. all taken care of. Recently, his "girlfriend" called my sister and informed her that "your dad has made a will with an attorney and that because he doesnt have a lot of assests doesnt need anything else." He has his house (mortgage free), stocks, some bonds, several savings accounts and retirement fund that we know of. There is only my sister and I and there are no issues between us and our dad's estate division when it comes to it. His "girlfriend" should not be involved with this, but does "guide him" on everything and we don't know what she is telling him. Can "just a will" cover everything--estate planning, division of assests after death, health care, power of attorney--or is this going to turn ugly/messy when he either gets sick and hospitalized or when he does pass away?

Expert Answers

Barbara Repa, a senior editor, is an attorney, a journalist specializing in aging issues, and the author of Your Rights in the Workplace (Nolo), now in its 10th edition.

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.

Community Answers

Sirbill answered...

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