Writing a will
If your spouse were to die tomorrow, would you be prepared to deal with the consequences?
It's best to prepare for the possibility of a spouse's death far in advance, when your wits--and your spouse--are still with you.
Your priority should be writing wills or establishing a trust. You should each be thoroughly familiar with the terms of each other's wills, and the reasoning behind their terms.
Second only to the emotional devastation of a spouse's death is the blow dealt to the surviving spouse's financial security. In many cases, the immediate benefits are provided by life insurance or a corporate retirement/pension plan.
Almost as important as talking with your spouse is getting to know the financial advisors who work with him or her, including lawyer, financial planner, stockbroker, insurance agent, and accountant.
Include this information in a "letter of instruction," which is not a legal document. Add checking and savings account numbers, the location of safety-deposit boxes, and copies of business agreements. Put this "letter" with your will, and give a copy to the person you wish to administer the will upon your death.
Help for women
Because 75 percent of married women outlive their husbands, by up to 15 years, women should make a special effort to prepare themselves for the possible death of their spouse.
Married women should actively participate in the family's financial matters, learning about their spouse's pension plans and family investments, and establish credit in their own name.
The book On Your Own (Dearborn Financial Publishing Inc., $24.95) offers checklists and worksheets for widows facing emotional and financial issues, from determining "normal" grief to creating a meaningful budget.
Check out the Funeral Service Educational Foundation at (877) 402-5900 or online at www.nfda.org; the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization at (800) 658-8898 or online at www.nhpco.org; and MetLife at (800) 638-5433 or online at www.lifeadvice.com.
Writing your own will
Only about one-third of Kentuckians have a will, compared with about half of Americans overall, so getting this document should be at the top of your to-do list.
Any adult of sound mind is entitled to make a will. Beyond that, there are just a few technical requirements:
- The will should be typewritten or computer-generated, although legibly handwritten wills may be acceptable.
- The document must state that it is your will.
- You must date and sign the will.
- The will must be signed by at least two witnesses.
They must watch you sign the will, although they don't need to read it. Your witnesses must be people who won't inherit anything under the will.
You don't have to have your will notarized; however, if you and your witnesses sign an affidavit (sworn statement) before a notary public, it can help simplify the court procedures required to prove the validity of the will after you die.
Once your will is written, store it in a safe place that is accessible to others after your death. Make certain that a close friend or relative knows where to find it.
You don't need an attorney to draw up a will, although his or her expertise will help avoid snags caused by laws varying from state to state.
The American Bar Association Guide to Wills and Estates is published by Times Books. Call (800) 793-2665, give reference number 032-03 and your cost will be $10.40.
Nolo's Will Book and Will Maker Software is available from Nolo Press at a discount by calling (800) 728-3555 and mentioning DMET or by going online at www.nolo.com.