Client: Prosperity Law
It’s one thing to blog about wills, health care proxies, estate plans, trusts, etc. But today, I’m starting a two-part blog about the details in your will. If you don’t already have one, this is perfect timing. You’ll be able to start anew with the proper checklist and knowledge on keeping it safe. Securing your will with your wishes in a checklist form is first, this week. Then, next week, I’ll cover my advice on where to best store your last will and testament for safe-keeping.
The Master Last Will And Testament Checklist
Treat the below checklist like a master checklist as you draft your will with an attorney. To be honest, we are all going to pass on at some point. It’s better to have a plan in place to ease the burdens on your loved ones. Truthfully, this is a serious matter and needs to be taken care of sooner than later.
Health Care Concerns
If you’re in good health now, that’s one thing you can easily cross off. Healthcare planning can be much more easily determined. If you have an illness, you may want to consider healthcare options and end of life directives. Regarding your illness, have you considered a second opinion? It’s important to understand your future by way of treatments, risks, benefits, and alternatives. Consult with your doctor to help you move forward.
- If you do have an illness, ask your doctor to explain the typical course of your illness including how and when you might die. How much time do you have left? (It’s critical to know this!)
- Ask about controlling the side effects and conditions of the illness. Does your health insurance allow for additional treatment such as in-home care?
- Ask about options and timing for hospice and end-of-life care in advance. Which hospice providers are available in your community? (Choose one in advance now).
- Ask your doctor to help you select medical therapies which will help you to accomplish the goals you have for your life.
- Consider the ideal circumstances in which you’d prefer to die such as surroundings, location, with whom and so on.
- Would you rather die in your home? If you move to a nursing home or alternative care facility, is that acceptable as well? Consider your options at this early stage.
- Prepare your Advance Directive form.
- Fill out a Personal Self-Assessment Scale (known as a PSAS). The PSAS will help you answer questions such as: “Are there situations in which you would ever want artificial nutrition by feeding tube? When would you ever want to be on an artificial respirator? When would you want CPR or to allow natural death to occur?” Additionally, your family, surrogate medical decision-maker, and physician should all have updated copies of your PSAS.
- Do you have an advanced directive(s) included in your living will? Is it legal for your state? (Include a PSAS to help your healthcare provider and proxy or family to know at what stage of illness you choose to forgo certain medical interventions).
- Have you selected a Health Care Agent and executed a Health Care Power of Attorney or Health Care Proxy? Remember, these documents are state specific, so use your state’s form. It’s important to specify 1 or 2 alternative proxies as well. (For reference, a Health Care Agent is a legal term for a surrogate medical decision-maker—the person who will make medical decisions for you should you become unable to make them for yourself).
- Have you set up a POLST (Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment), if the POLST program is legal in your state? Or, if the POLST is unavailable, have you asked your physician to sign a state-approved Do Not Resuscitate/Allow Natural Death order if desired?
- Have you executed a legal DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) Order? The DNR is a medical order signed by a physician instructing health care workers not to perform CPR on you, but instead to allow you to die naturally and in comfort. Only a physician may prepare this order.
- Have you executed a legal DNI (Do Not Intubate) Order? The DNI is a medical order signed by a physician instructing health care workers not to intubate you or place you on an artificial ventilator if your breathing fails.
- Have you executed a legal DNH (Do Not Hospitalize) Order? The DNH is a medical order signed by a physician instructing healthcare workers not to send you to a hospital from your home or nursing home facility unless necessary for comfort.
- Does your Health Care Proxy have a copy of your Living Will or other documents containing your advance directives such as POLST, PSAS, DNR, etc.? Make certain to keep your copies of these documents handy. Tell your family members where you keep the originals as well as your copy. (Family members, surrogate medical decision-makers, and your physicians should all have copies of these items as well!)
- Do you need to create or update your trust?
- Have you set up your estate plan?
- Is your will up to date?
- Have you executed a Financial Power of Attorney?
- Have you discussed your health care conditions with your family and friends?
- Have you told your loved ones EXACTLY what medical interventions that you want and
do not want? Do they know at what stage of illness you would choose to forego certain therapies or artificial life support? Definitely share your PSAS and/or POLST, DNR, DNI, DNH papers with them.
Discussions with family should include all family members with emotional ties, not just your health care agents.
- Your family needs to know who you have put in charge of your medical decisions when you can no longer make them. Your health care proxy or your surrogate medical decision- maker needs to understand and agree to carry out your wishes and desires regarding your end-of-life care.
- Do you need a private discussion with anyone, if it would help them to accept your decision?
- What are your beliefs about death? Do you need to make peace with yourself or a Higher Power beforehand?
- Follow up question: do you need psychological, emotional, spiritual care, counseling or other types of support?
- Have you left a legacy? Identify life lessons, advice, hopes and dreams that you would like to pass on to family and friends. Write or record these and identify someone to pass these messages along to those whom you wish to receive your legacy.
- Have you written your personal history in one form or another? Who will receive your personal history?
- Do you have anything amiss with your family or friends to fix? Can you fix the issues now? If so, take action and schedule a time to start.
- Do you have letters to write or important phone calls to make? Make a list of anything you want to settle and settle them now while you can. A clear conscience is always important, no matter your current situation.
- Have you created your “bucket list”? What are you able to accomplish with the time you have left?
- In order to best prepare for your death, you need to have a life insurance policy. At the very least, you need a death benefit policy to pay for funeral and cremation or burial expenses, if your family does not have the money for it.
- If you do have life insurance, are your policies in order? Have you placed original policies with your important papers in a safe place where your family and/or executor knows where to find them?
- Do you have or need long-term care policy, disability policy, or life insurance policy?
- Contact your life insurance company. If you have a terminal illness, in some instances the insurance company will pay out in advance of death. This will enable you to pay for and secure arrangements in advance.
- Complete your financial checklist. (You should consult with an accountant or attorney to create and complete such a checklist separate from this last will checklist).
- Who will pay your bills during the immediate time after my death? Your spouse or children? Accountant? Lawyer? What about your personal representative?
- Who will be in charge of discontinuing services no longer needed which are in your name?
If you own or manage a business, this section is just as important. (If you do not have a business of your own or do not have a vested interest in one, feel free to skip this section).
- Complete a “business survival” plan.
- Do you need “key employee” insurance? (This is a type of insurance that covers the loss of a business owner or partner so that the business can continue).
- Do you need to sell or transfer your business interests?
- To whom do you give your personal belongings? If you are married, most likely all of your belongings will transfer to your spouse or family. If you are single, then you must specify exactly what you want to be done.
- Who gets your special items, such as photos, mementos, etc.?
- Have you labeled the people in your photos? Who do your photos and media (pictures, negatives, CDs, flash drives, etc.) go to?
- If you are single with kids, have you set up a guardian for your children for the immediate time after your death?
- Have you set up the paperwork for where your children will go permanently if they are minors?
- What assets should you sell before your death? (House? Car? Furniture? Land?)
- Have you made arrangements for the care of your pets, if you have them?
- What unfinished projects around the house, at work or in the community would you like to complete?
- If you have young children, have you left personal messages to them?
- Are all your digital photos and videos in one place? What about your computer and devices?
Funeral Planning and Logistics
- Where do you want your body to be taken … which funeral home or mortuary?
- Do you want to be embalmed, buried, or cremated?
- What are you burial and casket preferences?
- Do you want to write your own obituary?
- Do you have a burial plot? If cremated, where should your ashes be scattered or interned?
- Do you want or need a headstone or grave marker? Have you written out what you want to be inscribed on it?
- Do you want a funeral service or specific program?
- Do you have special needs for your ceremony; military, religious or otherwise?
- Who will deliver your eulogy? Ask him or her far in advance.
- Should you pre-pay for funeral expenses?
- Do you prefer a wake or memorial party instead of a funeral?
- Who needs to be made aware of your death? Make a contact list for your funeral or memorial notices.
Planning for your own death—whether expected or not—takes a lot of time and energy to complete. It is much better to take the time now, while you have it. Lay out your plans, wishes, directions, and desires, so your passing will be peaceful, for both you, your family and friends.
Last week, I covered in depth a checklist on creating (or revising) your last will and testament. It’s important to take care of these serious matters sooner rather than later. After all, death can come expectedly or unexpectedly. It’s always smart for you and your loved ones to have a plan in place when there is no added pressure or impending losses. This week I’ll be discussing where to keep your completed will and other critical legal paperwork.
Organization Is Key
To briefly recap, a will is a signed and witnessed document that directs who is to receive your possessions at the time of your death. Possessions can include real estate, bank accounts, trusts, and personal belongings. When the person in question passes away, a personal representative executor is appointed, whose duty it is to ensure the terms of the will are fully carried out.
In all my experience as an attorney in creating estate plans, trusts and wills, I’ve seen it all. Some of the preparations I’ve seen are well-thought-out plans. Most of them need work, and that’s okay. It’s my job to ensure your future is secured and your loved ones are properly directed in the event of your death. Organization on your end is key. Having the documents and a set of instructions on where they are and how to execute them is critical as well. Keep reading!
Options For Safekeeping
Being unable to get a hold of the original copy of your will can end up creating difficulties for your heirs. Being the sole owner of important assets presents a huge legal hurdle for your heirs after your death. Having multiple owners may circumvent these hurdles.
Storing It In-House
Some people do decide to keep their will and papers under their own roof. If that’s the case, consider a fireproof and waterproof safe. A best-case scenario would be to have a large fireproof safe built into the wall or the structure of your home. If that’s not feasible, you can purchase a solid safe and weigh it down or hide a smaller safe in a secure location. Regardless of where you store your will and paperwork, be sure to tell your personal representative and beneficiaries of its location. If it involves a key or a combination to a safe, let your personal representative know where the key or combination is located.
Using A Safe Deposit Box
In my profession, many people believe a safe deposit box is the safest place to store your last will. I would disagree in that there are too many contingencies. Every state has different rules on opening the box upon the owner’s death.
My best advice: if you choose to use a safe deposit box to store your will, make sure your personal representative and beneficiaries know exactly where the safe deposit box is located. I’d even go so far as to bring them along on a walk-through showing them the exact process that will take place upon your death. Make sure you have someone else’s name on the box, not just power of attorney, because that ends when you die.
The County Clerk’s Office
Depending on the state and county in which you live, the county clerk’s office may store the original copy of your will for a small fee. Your executor and heirs may not know this is an option so be sure to tell them before you pass.
Leaving It With Your Attorney
Some of my clients have asked me to hold their wills for them, which is also a viable option. This option works if you 1) plan on keeping the same attorney until your death and 2) your attorney will remain an attorney until your death. This next part goes without saying, but I will add it in any way. Your personal representative and heirs need to be made aware of who your attorney is. Share his or her contact information with your family members as well. If feasible, schedule a meet-and-greet for the family members who need to know.
Keep in mind, even if you don’t keep your will with your attorney, he or she may keep signed copies of the original as backups, especially if they helped to create the documents. In some situations, a copy of the original will may be admitted to the probate court if the original will is lost.
Do’s And Don’t’s
- DO have a binder with everything in one place. This will act as your master copy binder.
- DO make and give signed official copies of the same documents to your spouse and beneficiaries, just in case.
- DON’T keep everything in a home safe or safe deposit box UNLESS other people have access.
- DO consider keeping everything in a fireproof safe or fireproof file box in a secure part of your home.
- DO provide access to your assets (bank accounts, safe deposit boxes, etc.) upon your death.