HOW TO TAKE CARE OF YOUR WILL AND IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS
1. STORING YOUR LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT;
Your Last Will and Testament is a very fragile legal instrument and it should be cared for appropriately. Any damage to the original document, whether unintentional (e.g. spills, rips, etc.) or not (e.g., writing on it, crossing out) may invalidate your entire Will. Most states will not accept a copy of your Will; your executor must have the original document. Therefore, I suggest several options:
· Put the original Will in a sealed envelope in a safe place and let your executor know where it is and tell your executor not to open it until after your death.
· Be careful if you plan to store your Will in as safety deposit box. Most states require the box to be sealed upon your death. It may take a court order to unseal the box resulting in delays in administration of your estate as well as additional fees.
· Give your original Will to you executor and keep a copy for yourself.
· Remember, if you are going to make a new will in the future you will need to get your current original will back to destroy it after the new will is made.
2. COPYING YOUR WILL
Limit the number of copies you make of your Will. The more copies you make the harder it will be in the future to retrieve them all for destruction, should you decide to make a new Will. When copying your Will, do not remove the staples. Additional staple holes may arouse suspicion among beneficiaries and the Courts. Any copies you make should clearly state “COPY” on every page.
3. REVIEWING YOUR WILL
· Review and consider updating your Will upon marriage, divorce, birth of children, retiring, or a substantial change in financial circumstances.
· If making changes on your Will in preparation for seeing an attorney, only write on the copy. NEVER WRITE ON THE ORIGINAL!
4. OTHER IMPORTANT WILL ISSUES
· If you have a prior Will, destroy it along with all copies that have been made.
· Some of your Estate will pass outside of you Will. Examples of this may include your home ( if owned as Joint Tenants with Right of Survivorship, or as Tenancy by the Entirety) and life insurance, some bank accounts, IRAs, 401 (k), etc. if they have a death beneficiary designation. I recommend you make a list of all your assets to give to your executor. It does not necessarily have to contain account numbers and balances, but should give the executor enough information to know whom to contact. Many policies and accounts have gone uncollected because the executor did not know of their existence.
· Wills do not expire. They remain in effect until and unless you make a new will or revoke the current will.
5. POWERS OF ATTORNEY
· Make as many copies of your Power of Attorney as you feel are necessary. Health Care Surrogate forms should be placed in your medical records and given to your doctor if you frequently use the same one. Make sure your agent has the original Power of Attorney.
· NO ONE HAS TO ACCEPT A POWER OF ATTORNEY. It is up to the institution you are dealing with to determine if they will honor it. If they do not accept it because it does not conform to their standard (usually through specific language) find out what is necessary and we will be glad to prepare another Power of Attorney specifically for use at that institution.
· Powers of Attorney are extremely difficult to revoke. Do not give the Power of Attorney to you agent unless you are convinced he/she is trustworthy, and will act in your best interests. Almost all Powers of Attorney will expire on their own. Once expired, they are no good. You will need to have a new one prepared when your current one expires.
6. LIVING WILLS
· Living Wills should be placed in your medical records and given to doctors that you regularly see.
· Make as many as you feel are necessary.
· These documents do not expire. It is a good idea to update them every five years so your family and friends will know that you have recently thought about what you would want to do under these circumstances.
7. DOCUMENTS GENERALLY
· Last Will and Testament- This document provides for you wishes as to what you want to happen to your property when you die. It also expresses your desire for appointment of a Guardian for your children.
· Living Will - This document expresses your wishes should you fall into a coma or persistent vegetative state with little hope of recovery. It is your opportunity to tell the doctors what type of treatment you want in that situation.
· Health Care Surrogate- This document gives you the ability to name a person or persons who will be responsible for making medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to make them.
· Durable Power of Attorney- This document names an Agent to act on your behalf for a variety of matters including financial matters, car registration, etc.