Senior Planning

Preparing a Will

It Can Be a Dreaded Task, but It’s an Important One

By Mary Paier Powers, Esq.


Completing a will is often a dreaded task to undertake — partly because we don’t want to face our own mortality, and partly because we don’t know where to begin.

A will is an important document that ensures property you own in your own name passes to the beneficiaries of your own choosing, and it can be changed as necessary. Your will gets filed at probate court when you pass away owning assets in your own name. Assets that have a beneficiary listed or assets that you own jointly are not controlled by your will.

Mary Paier Powers

Mary Paier Powers

“A will is an important document that ensures property you own in your own name passes to the beneficiaries of your own choosing, and it can be changed as necessary.”

As you are about to embark on this process, here are some thoughts to consider.

• Who are your beneficiaries? Family, children, friends, charities, or a combination of all? You can construct your will to leave your estate to the beneficiaries of your choosing.

• How old is a beneficiary, and does that beneficiary have the ability to manage the money or inheritance? Can they be in control if they receive a lump sum of money?

• Will you need a trust as part of your will? A trust provides for the management and distribution of assets for a beneficiary in a manner that is best for the beneficiary.

• What if a beneficiary passes away before you? Does that beneficiary’s share pass to their children? Or does it go only to your surviving beneficiaries?

• Some people plan for the future when they prepare their wills and try to accommodate various situations. It is OK and often recommended to update your will as your family and beneficiaries change. There is always uncertainty with what the future holds.

• If you do want to make minor changes later, you can do that with a codicil. This is an amendment to your will that changes the specific paragraphs that need to be adjusted, or, if there are a lot of changes, you would redo your entire will.

• If you opt to leave money to a charity, I encourage you to look at the organization’s website. You can opt to leave your money to a general fund and allow the charity to use the funds as the charity chooses, or you can specify your preferences for the use of your bequest.

• Another consideration is whom you should name as your personal representative, formerly known as an executor. This is an important responsibility since this person will gather your assets and distribute them as you direct. The personal representative will be responsible for making sure that the estate-tax return and income-tax return are completed if required, as well as making sure final personal income-tax returns are done.

• You should think of a second person to serve as a backup if the first named person/party cannot carry out these responsibilities.

• If you have minor children, you will want to think about who their guardian and/or conservator will be. Generally, the spouse or the child’s surviving parent will be listed, but you can also name alternate agents to serve in this capacity.

• You can also prepare a memorandum that will list various personal property items. Your personal representative will follow this list as a guideline. A memorandum can be completed by you individually, but you need to keep it with your will so the personal representative has access to it. This memorandum is a great mechanism to distribute personal items as well as sentimental items to beneficiaries of your choice — and if you change your mind, you can write a new memorandum.

This list is meant to be a starting point, and everyone’s situation is different. The most important step is to prepare a will; otherwise, the Commonwealth will dictate who will receive your assets at your death.


Mary Paier Powers is a partner at Powers Law Group in Springfield and West Springfield, where her practices focus primarily on estate settlement, estate planning, and elder law.