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Handbook for Mortals : Coping With Events Near Death

Estates and wills

As to the estate, is there a will? If not, should one be written before the person dies? A will is almost always helpful in making settlement of the estate, and it is astonishing how much estate even people of modest means will have (a car, a few stocks, a savings account, a debt owed or a debt to pay, and so on). If a will exists, does the person still affirm it, where is it, and how will it be read after the death?

Family is well-served when the deceased person leaves behind a will that at least names someone to have the authority to manage these affairs. If there is no will, generally close family will have to go to their county courthouse and get instruction in how to have someone named to be the "executor." That person will have to report to the court as to what the person owned and how it was handled. If wealth is passing to a spouse, tax laws are fairly lenient. If wealth is passing to others, however, taxes are often substantial. If the estate is worth much, the family should have a lawyer's advice (in advance of death is much better, of course). Working through these issues before a loved one dies can be calming and reassuring, and is almost always helpful to the family.

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