Q&A: Procrastination can mean estate-planning disaster

Dear Liz: My husband and I own all our assets as joint tenants. Because we have no children, we did not want to rush into making a will. But for the past few years, my husband’s older sister has been pressuring him to write a will benefiting her 60-year-old daughter.

His sister has gone so far as to ask my husband to send her a notarized list of all our assets, including bank accounts. He’s declined but she does not take “no” for an answer. He no longer communicates with her. It is our wish to benefit only the organizations and institutions that we already support. Although family members and relatives will not be named in the will, I wonder if his sister or anyone else can still try to claim an inheritance.

Answer: If you don’t stop procrastinating, everything you own may be inherited by that pushy sister-in-law. So get a move on.

Your jointly owned assets should pass to the other spouse when one of you dies, but when the survivor dies the property would be distributed according to your state’s laws if you don’t have a will or other estate plan. The laws of intestate succession typically put any children first in line, followed by parents. If you don’t have kids and your parents are dead, then siblings usually inherit.

People who would have inherited in the absence of a will typically have the “standing” or legal ability to challenge a will. Given your sister-in-law’s extreme sense of entitlement, you should count on her doing so. You should enlist an experienced attorney to help set up a will that can survive such a challenge.

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