How do I start a conversation with loved ones about estate planning?
You know your family best, so the answer to this question depends on your communication style and your relationship with family members. In most cases, it may not be best to show up on your parents’ doorstep, pie in hand, and immediately broach the subject. Rather, after you’ve settled in, find a moment when not much is going on — and young children are not underfoot — to dedicate some time to this discussion. You don’t want to end up shouting about wills across a dinner table crowded with relatives. Instead, envision you and a sibling relaxing in your parents’ living room while spouses tactfully take the kids away to play with new toys.
If your family communicates openly about a variety of subjects, you may just be able to start a conversation about estate planning at an appropriate moment and let it flow from there. If your parents or other older loved ones tend to keep this kind of information close to their chests, you may find it helpful to frame the conversation by acknowledging any discomfort it may cause and reassuring that you just want to make sure that you will know what to do, or who to contact.
What are the most important reasons to explain to my loved ones so they start or update their estate plan?
In general, it may help to focus on the potential downside if your loved ones do not have an estate plan in place. Namely, if your loved one dies or becomes incapacitated without an estate plan or will, their wishes as to what should happen to them or their things and finances are unlikely to come true.
Part of estate planning that is often overlooked are documents relating to healthcare. For example, your loved one may not realize that unless they execute a Healthcare Power of Attorney, they may not have a say in who makes decisions regarding their healthcare in the event they become incapacitated. Without this document, or an Advance Directive, there would be no way to know their wishes. If your older parent is widowed, and they do not have a spouse to rely on for this task, they would likely want to choose someone rather than leaving a physician to referee among squabbling siblings or adult children.
If your loved one becomes incapacitated or passes away without a will, their estate, including all finances, will likely have to go through probate in the state where they reside. This is the process where a person’s property will be divided by a judge according to state law, and that may not be appealing to your loved one.
It may help to approach estate planning as part of a conversation in which you focus on what your loved one does wish for and what they do want to happen before gently guiding them toward making an estate plan that would provide those outcomes. A Last Will and Testament may be a good way for your loved one to capture important decisions and openly share their wishes with family while they are still able to do so.
Can I help prepare a Last Will and Testament, or another legal document, for someone else?
Fortunately, the answer is yes, but you may want to talk to a lawyer about the potential legal issues if you are also a beneficiary. You can find and help prepare estate planning documents on Rocket Lawyer. Along with a Last Will and Testament, you may wish to explore whether a Living Trust or Power of Attorney may be useful documents to meet the needs of your loved one’s estate plan.
If you are having trouble figuring out where to start, it may help to sit down with your loved one(s) and have them go through either the Estate Planning Worksheet for Married People or Estate Planning Worksheet for Single People. If they can use a mobile device or computer, they can likely do much of the work on their own. Rocket Lawyer members can ask a lawyer any legal questions they might have, and get their legal documents reviewed. If you plan to help, it can be helpful for you to review these documents yourself, or even make your own estate plan, before broaching the subject.
If you use Rocket Lawyer to prepare estate planning documents for yourself or a loved one, you can have the documents reviewed by a Rocket Lawyer network attorney to ensure you meet your state’s legal requirements before signing. If you are listed as a beneficiary in your loved one’s will, you may be questioned if you drafted the will without an independent lawyer’s review. It can be helpful to contact a Rocket Lawyer network attorney if you have questions about these issues.
Is an electronically signed Last Will and Testament valid?
The answer to this question depends on the state in which your loved one resides, so you may want to ask a lawyer to be sure. Many states require that a Last Will and Testament be signed in the presence of witnesses but may allow for an electronic signature to be considered valid provided there is clear evidence that the signer intended the document to be their Last Will and Testament.
While digital signatures are binding in many circumstances, they are not uniformly recognized for wills in many states. When you use Rocket Lawyer to prepare estate planning documents for yourself or loved ones, it is recommended to have the final documents printed and signed in the presence of witnesses to avoid any confusion. You may then choose to keep both hard and digital copies of each document in safe places.
This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.