Where is your Last Will and Testament? When was the last time that you read it? Is there someone else beside yourself or your spouse who knows where to find it?
If you cannot quickly answer these questions in a positive manner you may wish to take a few minutes to correct the situation. It is important that you know where the original of your will can be found and it is equally important that others close to you know where to find the original will as well. A copy of your will cannot be used to initiate the administration of your estate. Only the original will can be used. It is surprising how often we get telephone inquires asking if we have “Fred Smith’s” original will in our office.
Most of the time this question comes from relatives of a recent decedent who have no idea whether Fred even had a will let alone where it is located.
A “missing” will can cause much trouble and additional expense to an estate. It will slow down the process of the probate of the decedent’s estate and can result in distributions quite different than those intended by Fred.
The death of a family member is difficult enough without adding the problem of missing documents to the mix. Leave written instructions as to where to find important original estate documents and financial documents with several family members, whether the documents are with you lawyer or in a bank safe deposit box.
I recommend that you review your will no less frequently than every five years. In addition you should review it whenever one of the following events occur: death of an heir mentioned in your will, remarriage, birth of a child, divorce, or any other event that has a major financial impact on your life.
Proper estate planning is not just for the very wealthy. As members of the “baby-boom” generation reach retirement age their parents will be transferring huge amounts of money to this generation via inheritance. It is important that this generational transfer of wealth go smoothly and with a minimum of financial loss to the family.
One complication that arises from an estate with an outdated will is the death of one or more of the heirs originally mentioned in the will. This can delay distribution from the estate to the other heirs while the deceased heir’s relatives are found and then a determination of how that share is distributed must be made.
In Connecticut it is important that every one has the following four documents current, in order and easy to locate:
- A detailed and current Last Will and Testament.
- A “Living Will” which gives you the right to die when there is no hope of recovery and you are only being kept alive by artificial means. The presence of such a document takes a great deal of stress off your surviving relatives when it comes time to make such a serious decision.
- An Appointment of a Health Care Agent that designates another individual (usually a spouse or a child) to make medical and treatment decisions on your behalf when you are not able to do so.
- A Durable Power of Attorney which allows another individual to sign documents such as checks or sales agreements on your behalf when you are incapable of doing so or if it becomes inconvenient to do so.
- It is quite important that everyone faces up to their responsibilities to their families by making sure that all is in order with their estate. It is pointless, time consuming, and more expensive if you fail to do so. Do not balk at the emotional aspects of estate planning. You family does not need to experience any more stress than already exists at the time the death of a loved one. Ease the burden… for their sake.