Are there legal steps we can take to find out if our parents have wills?

1 answer | Last updated: Jul 02, 2010
A fellow caregiver asked...

My sisters and I can't seem to get an answer from our parents about what they've done about wills, etc. Are there legal steps we can take to get this information?

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.

The ironic and practical reality is that you might have an easier time locating your parents’ wills and other estate planning documents after their deaths, when you would logically be expected to root through desks and drawers and safe deposit boxes in search of those documents.

But that would be considered plain bad behavior while they are still alive.

Your best hope is to get the news of their estate plans directly from your parents, although it sounds as if you’ve tried asking pointblank, to no avail.

Since you and your sisters are frustrated by not getting answers, it seems worth a try to ask again. But this time, do some preparation in advance. First, listen to their silence and try to determine the underlying reason for it. Do they feel that you’re violating their privacy by asking? Or being grabby? Or that one or more of you may be hurt or angry because they’ve decided to divide their property unequally—or to give it all away to a charity or an animal shelter? Or perhaps they’re embarrassed because the truth is that they have no estate planning documents in place; about 70 percent of all Americans die without them.

Ask for a brief heart to heart chat with both parents and all the siblings present. Gently explain to your parents that you have their best interests in mind, but remain curious or concerned about the plans for their property—and assure them that you sit ready to help them with those arrangements if they would want such help. Emphasize that you are not trying to meddle—and are happy to abide by their wishes, whatever they are—and practice meaning what you say.