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Where there is a will…

Did you know that, according to an AARP survey, two out of five people over the age of 45 do not have a will?

None of us like to think about death, but a will is an act of kindness for your loved ones, sparing them time, money and potential legal conflict. All seniors should have one, even those on Medicaid and/ or with limited assets and income. A will clearly directs how and where your assets will be distributed. Without a will, those decisions will be made by the state and by people who have no understanding of what your desires are or what is best for your family.

Here are some things to consider when preparing your will:

List your assets. Include life insurance, retirement accounts and all the valuable and sentimental items you’ve accumulated throughout your lifetime, such as jewelry, china, handmade blankets and other memorabilia. List all items, regardless of their monetary value; after all, these sentimental pieces may be most valuable to one or more of your heirs.

Determine your beneficiaries. Name the people to whom you want each asset to be given and be sure to include full legal names, addresses and social security numbers to make sure the right people inherit the right things.

Select an executor to handle your affairs and make certain that your wishes are upheld. This should be a trusted person since they will also be responsible for paying any bills and dealing with any debt collectors.

Decide where to store your will. Many people use a safety deposit box, but you could also store your will with your attorney or the county clerk. A family member might also take possession, but this is considered the least ideal option. Whatever option you choose, inform the executor of its location.

Finally, update your will when necessary. Perhaps your assets have increased or, maybe, you’ve had a new grandchild whom you’d like to include in the will. What if your executor is no longer able to carry out your wishes? Your will should reflect all such changes.

You can write a will yourself without assistance; an attorney’s help is not essential. The issue is more about how complex your estate is, which will determine how much assistance you will need. An attorney will typically charge between $250 and $1,000. The New Hampshire Bar Association and the American Bar Association have collaborated on a site, nh.freelegalanswers.org, which may help answer some basic questions.

Last, but not least, the best of wills won’t be any good if nobody knows how to find it. Make sure your family members and your executor know where your will and other important documents are kept.

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