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My elderly parent doesn't have a will, now what?

Death and dying are topics most people would like to avoid thinking about. However, when an aging parent is facing the twilight years of his or her life, the reality she or he will not live forever is something families must face. In most cases, the tasks relating to preparing for end-of-life considerations fall not only on the elderly parents' shoulders, but also on the adult children.

If you have an elderly parent who may be facing the end of life in the coming years, it can be helpful to learn some basic legal concepts surrounding wills and estate planning. The first step is to find out if your parent has written a will. If he or she has not, now is the time to take care of this essential document. 

Do you need a will or a trust?

There are many terms that get used when it comes to estate planning, and thus, a lot of confusion occurs. One of the primary things to understand is the difference between a will and a trust. A will is a written document in which a person gives instructions about how to distribute his or her property after death. A trust is a way to place assets under the ownership of a beneficiary who can receive income from the trust while he or she is alive, and designate whom to pass the assets to upon death. Having a trust helps assets avoid probate after death, meaning a court will not decide how to distribute the assets.

There are many more details and complex differences between a will and trust. For example, under Oklahoma state law, a spouse cannot completely exclude the surviving spouse. Because of the myriad details to consider when drawing up a will or trust, it is important to seek out the advice and help of a qualified attorney who has experience with estate planning.

What is estate planning?

Many people think of estate planning as something for just wealthy people, but the reality is that anyone with assets can benefit from making a plan for their assets after death. An attorney qualified in estate planning can help your elderly parent plan for the distribution of assets after death. One of the greatest benefits of advance planning is it can help your parent keep his or her assets in the family rather than ending up in probate where a court makes decisions regarding how to distribute them.

The American Association of Retired People estimated that a full 60 percent of people do not have a will or any other type of estate planning. That being the case, if your elderly parent has not drafted a will, he or she makes up this majority. Now is the time to change that statistic. Consulting with an attorney can be the first important step for future peace of mind.

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