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Taking the Stress out of Bequests

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Visualize yourself as a successful Oleh Chadash: You're jumping bureaucratic hurdles, speaking Hebrew in Ulpan, settling into your community, beginning to work and making new friends.

You're doing great!

But wait … just when you feel the earth settling under your feet, anxiety rears its head: the will and related arrangements you'd settled long ago in your former home, which was not your most pleasant experience the first time around, do not translate to your life in Israel. You will probably have to do it all over again. In a language and with customs you barely understand.

While numerous English-speaking attorneys specialize in the documents pertinent to Israel – Israeli wills, Powers of Attorney and Enduring Powers of Attorney – Olim are often at a loss in knowing where to begin.

In our former homes, most of us knew the basic rules for wills, living wills and related arrangements. We had longstanding and trusted legal and financial advisors. We were confident in our ability to gather the information we needed and make responsible choices for ourselves and our families.

In Israel, we have little or no basis for making responsible judgements other than seeking advice from friends or from professionals with whom we have no history and little basis to know whether they're right for us. 

Miriam Shatsky

Fortunately, there is a wonderful new resource to help us take these first steps: an online information center and decision tree wizard that's available at www.ezwill.co.il

There are several ways EZwill can be used: to become more knowledgeable about the major instruments common to Israeli estate and end-of-life planning; to learn about reconciling Israeli and existing documents overseas, or to draft a will with or without hiring an attorney.

EZwill is the creation of Ra'anana-based attorney Miriam Shatsky, who specializes in wills, estates and planning for the aging. Born in the U.S., Miriam earned an L.L.B. from Bar Ilan University in 2006 and has been practicing since 2007.

She was inspired to build an online resource as she helped her clients overcome their frustrations and anxieties dealing with questions such as: What information do I need, and how can I rely on it to be correct? What is the reason to have an Israeli will? How do I reconcile an Israeli will with an existing will in another country? What's the proper way to account for adult and minor children? How do I navigate tax issues? How is a will probated in Israel?

"As I went through the process with my clients over many years, I was able to recognize a pattern in what most people want in their wills," she explains. "After having done this so many times, I realized that much of it could be done more easily and economically through a web-based service. A simple will could be completely self-generated, while more complicated issues could be reviewed with an attorney."

The issues that might be considered "more complicated" could range from complex business or tax-related situations in Israel or abroad to personal matters, like blended families, a child with a disability, or cutting one child out of the will.

Regardless of the level of complexity and professional services ultimately required, however, the site provides a wealth of useful, cost-free information through its FAQ pages, Glossaries and Learning Center.

Beyond that starting point, users can opt for one of the decision tree wizards to draft an actual will. The forms are surprisingly simple to customize with personal choices and information; decision trees are logically formatted, and explanations are provided in easy-to-understand language. At the end of the process, the product is a will that's ready to be printed, witnessed and filed.

The current templates, each of which can be used for a fee, include: Couple with grown children; Young family; Single/divorced/widowed parent with grown children, and Single/divorced/widowed parent with young children.

For example, if a user(s) clicks "married couple with grown children" they are told that this form is appropriate for those who do not have children from a previous marriage. Once that's clear, the first set of prompts includes:

  • Choosing a country in which the wills won't apply due to an existing will
  • Bequeathing items with sentimental value to a specific person
  • Addressing large monetary gifts or loans that may have previously been given to individual children

Drilling down, the next set of prompts includes:

  • Determining whether an executor or trustee is needed and if so, naming them
  • Customizations such as mutual wills and other limitations.

Additional categories in the works include same-sex couples, people who live abroad but own property in Israel, and the inclusion of documents such as end-of-life power of attorney. Currently the website and documents are written in English only.

While there are legal matters that simply cannot be addressed without a lawyer, writing a will is one area in which the law specifically does enable people to write it on their own, Miriam explains.

Yet, while legally valid, there are some caveats.

"I've seen some self-made wills over the years," she says. "Some were surprisingly good, but others were completely misguided and caused more harm than good.

"In one particular case, a wealthy man wrote that 10% of all his assets will be given to charity. While this is a beautiful and generous idea, he certainly did not mean that 10% of the home he and his wife are living in would go to an organization. He also made several amendments that made the will unclear.

"My goal was to create a self-service option that will ensure that people will end up with a quality will that is well worded and addresses all the necessary points, whether they choose a self-made will or seek some level of consultation."

For more information, see www.ezwill.co.il or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

 

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Wednesday, 17 April 2024

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