Frequently Asked Questions About Wills, Living Wills and Powers of Attorney
By Sheri R. Abrams, P.C.Attorney at Law 3915 Old Lee Highway Suite 22-A Fairfax, VA 22030
|WHAT DOES A WILL DO? |
The simplest way to ensure that your funds, property and personal effects will be distributed after your death according to your wishes is to prepare a will. A will is a legal document designating the transfer of your property and assets after you die. Usually, wills can be written by any person over the age of 18 who is mentally capable, commonly stated as "being of sound mind and body."
WHO NEEDS A WILL?
Although wills are simple to create, about half of all Americans die without one (or Intestate). Without a will to indicate your wishes, the court steps in and distributes your property according to the laws of your state. Wills are not just for the rich; the amount of property you have is irrelevant. A will ensures that what assets you do have will be given to family members or other beneficiaries you designate. If you have no apparent heirs and die without a will, it's even possible the state may claim your estate.
WHAT ARE THE ELEMENTS OF A WILL?
What you generally need to make a will:
WHAT IS A GUARDIAN?
In most cases, a surviving parent assumes the role of sole guardian. However, it's important to name a guardian for minor children in your will in case neither you nor your spouse is able and willing to act. The guardian you choose should be over 18 and willing to assume the responsibility. Talk to the person ahead of time about what you are asking. You can name a couple as co-guardians, but that may not be advisable. It's always possible the guardians may choose to go their separate ways at some later date, and, if so, a custody battle could ensue. If you do not name a guardian to care for your children, a judge will appoint one, and it may not be someone you would have chosen.
WHAT IS A EXECUTOR/EXECUTRIX AND WHAT DO THEY DO?
An Executor/Executrix is the person who oversees the distribution of your assets in accordance with your will. Most people choose their spouse, an adult child, a relative, or a friend to fulfill this duty.
WHAT ABOUT UPDATING MY WILL?
You'll probably need to update your will several times during the course of your life. For example, a change in marital status, the birth of a child or a move to a new state should all prompt a review of your will. You can update your will by amending it by way of a Codicil or by drawing up a new one. Generally, people choose to issue a new will that supersedes the old document. Be sure to destroy the old will after you sign a new one.
WHAT ABOUT ESTATE TAXES?
The property included in your will may be subject to taxation. In planning your will, take into account the following:
WHERE SHOULD I KEEP MY WILL?
Once your will is written, store it in a safe place that is accessible to others after your death. I suggest that you keep it in a fire proof box that you can purchase at any office supply store. I do not suggest that you keep your will in a safe deposit box because many states will seal your safe deposit box upon your death. Make sure a close friend or relative knows where to find your will.
WHAT IS A LIVING WILL?
A living will is not a part of your will. It is a separate document that lets your family members know what type of care you do or don't want to receive should you become terminally ill or permanently unconscious. It becomes effective only when you cannot express your wishes yourself. Discuss your wishes as reflected in your living will with family members, and be sure all your doctors have a signed copy.
WHAT IS A POWER OF ATTORNEY FOR HEALTH CARE (HEALTH CARE PROXY)?
A power of attorney for health care (health care proxy) is not a part of your will. It is a separate document that authorizes someone you name to act in accordance with your medical intentions. It becomes effective only when you cannot express your wishes yourself. You should make sure that all your doctors have a signed copy.
WHAT IS A FINANCIAL DURABLE POWER OF ATTORNEY?
A financial durable power of attorney is not a part of your will. It is a separate document that authorizes someone you name to act in accordance with your financial intentions. It becomes effective only when you cannot express your wishes yourself. You should make sure that all your financial professionals (stockbrokers, accountants, financial planners) and banks have a signed copy.
The end of your life is something you probably don't want to dwell on, but thinking about what will happen to your loved ones and your assets and personal possessions is important. Making sure you've done all you can to make their lives easier will give you peace of mind. And once your will is drafted, you won't have to think about it again unless something significant in your life changes.