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Talking to your parents about a will

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Q. My parents don’t have wills. How can I convince them that they should? To them it’s about privacy so I figured talking about probate could be the answer.
— Stumped

A. Education is key.

Your parents may not be aware of the consequences of not having a will, said Mary Scrupski, director of estate planning with Prestige Wealth Management Group in Flemington and Millburn.

For example, Scrupski said, they may not know that if they do not have a will, they lose the right to select whom they wish to serve as their executor, or the person in charge of the estate.

“If someone dies `intestate,’ meaning `without a will,’ then certain individuals have the right to qualify as administrator of the estate,” she said. “The law is very rigid with respect to who can qualify.”

For example, she said, if an individual has no spouse but three children, each child has an equal right to be the administrator. They will have to agree among themselves who will serve or else go to court and have a judge decide who is best to serve, she said.

Moreover, the administrator will have to be bonded, Scrupski said.

“This can cost of hundreds and possibly thousands of dollars,” she said. “This expense can be easily avoided if a person has a will with a provision that waives the bond requirement.”

She said one good source of information on this topic is your local surrogate. Each county in New Jersey has a Surrogate’s Office, usually located in the county seat. For example, she said, the Monmouth County Surrogate’s office has printed a brochure entitled “A Citizen’s Guide to Wills, Trusts and Estates” which can be found online.

This information might be helpful to convince your parents that it is in their best interests to have wills, Scrupski said.

It’s also possible that your parents are concerned about privacy. If that’s the case, she said, they might consider setting up trusts to dispose of their assets.

That’s because a will is a public document.

“Although most wills do not contain specific asset information, the will itself is public document and anyone can obtain a copy,” she said. “A trust remains private unless there is litigation involving the trust.”

Scrupski said the trust agreement does not automatically become a public record.

If your parents set up a trust and transfer their assets to a trust during their lifetime, the trust controls what happens to the assets, she said.

“Whichever alternative is better for their circumstances is a decision only they can make. No matter what, it is best to have a plan in place,” Scrupski said. “Not dealing with these issues can lead to excess costs and family disputes that can be avoided with proper planning.”

You can also tell your parents to send us some questions and we will get them answers — anonymously.

Email your questions to

Karin Price Mueller writes the Bamboozled column for The Star-Ledger and she’s the founder of Click here to sign up for the weekly e-newsletter. Like on Facebook and follow it on Twitter

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