“When we are fully independent is the time to prepare for the future,” Iris Yardeni, founder at Iris Yardeni Law Firm told The Jerusalem Post, as she sat down to discuss the complexities of wills, inheritance, and continuing power of attorneys in Israel.
“If you did not prepare a will than the inheritance law determines how you divide your inheritance. If you have a will you can gain a good measure of control over your inheritance,” she said. “Nevertheless, a will is not a magic word; you need to know how to prepare one.”
According to Israeli law, Yardeni explained, when a married person dies without a will, half of their estate is automatically given to their spouse and the other half to their children and if there are no children, then half to the parents of the deceased.”
While this may sound simple and straightforward, Yardeni insists this formula does not take into account the numerous intricacies unique to each family.
“When you don’t have a will, the inheritance is very simple, but straightforward inheritance by law can often create problematic family situations that the deceased would not have agreed to had he been aware of them in advance,” she added.
“What if I want to give more to my spouse or provide him independence to my estate for the remainder of their lives? What if I don’t have any children and I don’t want my spouse to inherit along with my parents or siblings? What if I want all my children to inherit equally, but I have already given one child a large sum of money? What if my spouse remarries – how can I ensure that the new spouse does not take my inheritance for the new family they will begin and safeguard it for my children? These are just a few examples.”
“You see lots of incidents of people who do not take care of this ahead of time and this creates major problems in the future,” she said. "On the other hand, it is important to know that a will that is not properly worded can also create disputes and conflicts down the road."
As such, Yardeni said she recommends writing a will, but in an intelligent manner.”
“What is a smart will? A will in which you fulfil three goals, or the golden triangle, as I call it,” she said. “Equality among children; that the inheritance will stay within the family by order of secondary beneficiaries; and giving the spouse independence, while placing limitations to ensure the inheritance stays within the family DNA.”
However, Yardeni said it was important to note that even if a smart will is drafted, it can always be undone. “This is of immense importance in inheritance between spouses - they want to ensure on the one hand that the spouse inherits all or part of it exclusively but in the same breath that the heirs of the inheritance of both spouses will eventually reach the joint children. This can only be done with a mutual will.”
Essentially, Yardeni explained, spouses can draft wills simultaneously with a lawyer, and so each will is valid so long as the other will remains valid.
“After a spouse dies, these are very difficult to delete,” she said. “It is the ultimate will for couples, which provides peace of mind for themselves, their children and for the future.”
However, she cautioned: "My advice is to use all the tools that the Inheritance Law provides for the purpose of drafting a smart mutual will; but most importantly you must ensure that nowhere in the will does it state that it can be altered at any time - otherwise the heir spouse can bequeath his share to whomever he wants, and this is usually not the intention.”
Yardeni’s expertise also includes continuing power of attorneys, which is another very important area in family law.
In the past, she explained, if a person was not qualified to make decisions, the court would appoint a legal guardian. At the time of such an appointment, the person is unable to determine who the guardian would be, nor to give him instructions on how to fulfill his role. "This is because the entire appointment took place when the person was already unfit,” she said.
"A continuing power of attorney is a legal tool for a person to determine who will be the person that will make decisions on his or her behalf, should it become difficult for him or her to make decisions," she said. "This is a document that goes into effect when you are no longer able to make decisions on your own."
Yardeni said that these documents should act as a complement to a will.
"A legal guardian is chosen by the court by someone who wants to appoint themselves to oversee your affairs, but it is not necessarily someone who you would have chosen as a first choice,” she explained. “When preparing a continuing power of attorney, there is really a decision-making process that people take to choose who will have power of attorney.”
She added: "This document lets you decides crucial questions for your future like, where will I live and be taken care of if, who will decide when I am unfit to make decisions - a doctor or a family member? How will I be taken care of and what decisions will they be able to make regarding my property and regarding my medical condition and more?
"This legal tool is especially important for those who support their children or grandchildren and want to continue to ensure this support even if they should become unfit,” she said.
Yardeni recounted a story about an elderly father with eight children, who was moved every two months from child to child so they could care for him in their homes despite the fact that he had his own apartment.
"It was a very heartfelt gesture from the family, but it was not what the father would have wanted - and it was this story that caused me to practice law in this field," she said, “to look out for personal interests of those who come to me.”
Yardeni said that one of the most important decisions to make in drafting these documents is to choose a lawyer that can "identify if there is a dependency factor or someone influencing you."
"You need an experienced lawyer who will take the time to understand and gain a general picture of your family affairs so that they can best look out for your interests and choose the right tools for you," she said. "There are so many intricacies and alternatives that need to be thought of."
Most importantly though, Yardeni added, is that when drafting such documents, people “do their research” and “read, read, read,” she said. “I cannot tell you how many times people come to me saying they thought their will or continuing power of attorney said one thing, when in reality it said something else entirely.”
“So, my advice is to read the prepared documents carefully, ask questions about the arrangements as they would apply to different life situations, make sure your expectations match, and of course ensure that the continuing power of attorney is written alongside the will,” she added.For more information: Iris Yardeni - 0508224457