Basic Legal Preparedness – Getting Started

Last Will, Power of Attorney, Medical Directive

Guest Article by Bogan

As is well documented on MSB, preparedness can take many forms: food, water, sanitation, defense, fire (heat), medical, bugging out, getting home, going off grid, and much, much more.

However there is another type of preparedness that should also be on the radar screen:

Legal preparedness. What follows here is not legal advice, nor is it remotely intended as such. Rather it is a general treatment of the topic.

What do I mean by the term “Legal Preparedness”? It refers to the things you can do that are within your control NOW that can affect how the future may play out as far as you and your family as members of society go, as well as your “stuff” – your real and personal property. In other words, you can act now to be better legally prepared to face whatever life throws at you.

Some of these things are just common sense, although they have a legal impact.

Think of three big questions:

– Who am I?
– What is my stuff?
– What do I want done? (With my health and my stuff)

It’s not good enough to simply have answers to these questions. To be legally prepared means you must be able to PROVE these things to third parties, whether they be a judge, a nurse at the emergency room, a cop who has closed off a section of road your house sits on, or a thousand other scenarios.

DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT
The answer to the first two questions is to assemble all documentary evidence, papers, passport, car titles, utility bills (proving residence), birth certificates, DD214, pictures, videos of your stuff, screen shots of your bank statements and IRA account(s), etc. Scan and save them electronically, and print out a full hardcopy. Items with serial numbers or distinctive markings should be photographed twice – the item itself, and then a close up of the serial number or distinctive mark. When it comes to thoroughness on documenting “stuff”, think skeptical insurance adjuster who wants proof that you once owned something.

Storage of documents. Think carefully about storing of originals in a vault at the bank, because the very time you might need to have access to the vault may well be the very time you (or your agent) can’t get into it (EMP? Martial Law?). One school of thought is to store originals in a fireproof safe of some kind, (with a non-electronic lock) over which you have control. A belt-and-suspenders approach is to store the originals in a suitable location and put a set of copies in a vault at the bank…

Of these documents, a person should also consider having a separate hardcopy of all government issued ID’s handy in your BOB or BOV, as well as proof of ownership of your BOL or proof of a right to occupy it (lease, utility bill, letter from owner, etc.). Reminder: your ham license is also a Government issued ID.

With this project complete, you have credible evidence of who you are and what your stuff is – whether or not you are alive or dead. You have begun your journey to legal preparedness.

DOCUMENTS YOU CAN GENERATE NOW TO HANDLE SITUATIONS IN THE FUTURE
Three basic “legal” documents on the path to legal preparedness are the “Advanced Healthcare Directive”, the “Power of Attorney” and the “Will”.

Of these three in the majority of jurisdictions in the USA, the first two can be in effect during your life but are automatically extinguished when you die. The Will only comes into effect after you die. A person can get a lot fancier then just these three, but these are at least a starting point. Each is discussed in turn:

1) The Advanced Medical Directive
2) Power of Attorney
3) The Will (“Last Will and Testament”)

 

Advanced Medical Directive

(Also Known As Living Will, Personal Directive, Advance Directive, Medical Directive Or Advance Decision)

This is a document in which a person specifies what actions should be taken for their health if they are no longer able to make decisions for themselves because of illness or incapacity (recall the Terry Schiavo case a few years back)

Some people first think of this document as the one that authorizes the “pulling of the plug” (on their life) if certain conditions are met, but the landscape is much bigger than that: another key component is who you select as your “agent”, that is, the person who is authorized to make medical decisions on your behalf. These decisions can be – and often are – on a smaller scale than pulling the plug. Depending on state law, some variants of the Advanced Medical Directive go into detail about guardianship, autopsies, and more.

Where the Advanced Medical Directive covers your health, the next document covers your “stuff” – your business affairs – while you are still alive.

 

Power of Attorney

A durable power of attorney (POA) or letter of attorney is a written authorization to represent or act on another’s behalf in private affairs, business, or some other legal matter.

According to Wikipedia: “The person authorizing the other to act is the principal, grantor, or donor (of the power). The one authorized to act is the agent or, in some common law jurisdictions, the attorney-in-fact”.

The agent need not be a qualified lawyer despite the use of the word “attorney” in the definition. It is usually a trusted family member.

In most states of the US, the authorization can come into effect either immediately (such as an elderly person delegating the authority to a trusted family member in anticipation of a major surgical procedure), or upon the occurrence of a foreseeable future event (such as the onset of dementia or a car accident).

In effect, under a durable power of attorney, the authority of the attorney-in-fact to act and/or make decisions on behalf of the grantor continues until the grantor’s death, unless earlier revoked by the grantor (“my surgery was successful, I now feel comfortable making my own decisions again”).

 

The Will (“Last Will and Testament”)

A will is a legal document by which a person (the “testator”), expresses their wishes as to how their property is to be distributed at death, and names one or more persons (the “executor”), to manage the estate until its final distribution.

The will does not come into effect until after the testator dies.

A will may also create a testamentary trust that is effective only after the death of the testator. A common use of a testamentary trust is to take care of children of the testator until they are old enough to handle their own affairs.

Further, the will is sometimes used as a vehicle by the testator to designate his/her preference for who is to be guardian of the testator’s minor children. It will likely be a judge who will make the final ruling on guardianship, but a statement in the will may help sway the judge.

The formalities of executing a valid and binding will vary widely amongst jurisdictions. The risk here is you may assemble what you think is the most perfect will, only to have it rejected for probate – and therefore useless – because it failed to meet the formalities of execution in your legal jurisdiction.

One thing to keep in mind is that, ideally, each person has their own will. Things get complicated…fast…if there is more than one testator (such as a husband and a wife) in a will.

 

SHOULD I HIRE A LAWYER?

Laws vary (a lot!), and the bottom line on these documents is that they need to be valid and enforceable in your specific state and country. IMO your best option is to seek help from a lawyer. In any event, do it now, and get it right, because the time to discover the document needs to be redone is NOT when the ambulance has shown up in front of your house…

Certainly you can do it yourself, but this may be false economy. Remember this: the law books are filled with screw-ups, and it is the lawyers who have to straighten out even innocent or well-intentioned mistakes. Buy once, cry once, right?

An attorney (US and Canada), solicitor (in the case of common law countries outside of North America such as England and Wales, Scotland or Ireland) or Civil Law Notary (A legally qualified individual called Notario or Notario Publico in Latin America) can assist in its preparation.

Note: Please don’t confuse a Notary in the US with a Notario in civil law countries: Notaries in the US are NOT authorized to prepare these documents (unless they are also a lawyer) although they can notarize a document prepared by others.

A variation on this theme occurs if you live in a common law country but have assets in a civil law jurisdiction (example, live in US, but have real estate in France). A Scrivener (in England and Wales) or a registered Civil Law Notary (registered in Florida or Alabama) can assist in preparing documentation that is more readily enforceable overseas. In Louisiana, which is the only civil law jurisdiction in the US, any qualified (admitted to the Louisiana bar) lawyer should be able to help with preparing documents that pass muster in civil law countries.

While this field can get complicated, I have attempted to distill the discussion into something that is relevant and meaningful to the preparedness-minded: something that a reader can act on with an understanding of the objective – that is: getting started in the area of legal preparedness.

WHAT STEPS HAVE YOU TAKEN TOWARD LEGAL PREPAREDNESS?

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47 Comments

  1. Wyoming recently passed a simplified probate procedure applicable if the decedents estate is less than $200,000 after deducting all liens and encumbrances. Assets held in trust, or in an IRA, or held in joint accounts do not count as long as a beneficiary has been named to those assets.

    Even assets not held in one of those forms is not counted if a “Pay on Death” form has been filed with the person or agent holding those assets.

    There is even a more simple procedure. All a beneficiary has to do is swear an affidavit that the deceased was a resident of Wyoming at the time of death, that his death occurred at least 30 days prior to the date of the affidavit, that no personal representative has been appointed, that all debts have been paid, and that the estate is less than 200k.

    In certain cases, the affidavit doesn’t even have to be filed with the probate court. The beneficiary simply presents the affidavit to whoever is holding the title to the assets (i.e. with the county clerk in the case of a motor vehicle or with the bank.) There are penalties for anyone who fails to honor the affidavit. Wyo.Stat. 2 1 201 et seq.

    So I have filed a Transfer on Death Deed with the county clerk to transfer my house, and have also filed Transfer on Death notices with my bank and the transfer agent of my stocks. Thus, I have already transferred most of my assets to my heirs. These TODs can be changed at any time. My old car with 160,000 miles is probably not worth the trouble, but if my heirs want it, it will be a simple matter for them to file the affidavit with the county clerk. My other assets — cash on hand, furniture, household items, stored food and supplies, etc. — will simply go to my heirs as per a memorandum I have left in my safe deposit box, with a signed copy in my home safe.

    If you have minor children, lawsuits in progress, Medicaid claims against your estate, etc. this method probably will not work, but you can still have your heirs file for the simplified (and much less costly) probate. If you have minor children, you will still need to court to officially appoint a guardian.

    I don’t know if any other states have enacted similar laws.

    1. I forgot to mention that in the case of assets such as your house, car, IRA, or stocks, etc., your heirs will need to get official death certificates to present to the person or gent holding those assets (county clerk, stock transfer agent, bank, etc.)

    2. Update:

      After some research, I found a site that lists simplified probate rules in every state. I checked some at random and it looks like most states have more complicated rules than Wyoming. However, all seem to have some simplified means of probate. The site lists the applicable statutes in every state so you check your state and see if your estate will qualify for the simplified procedure.

      https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/probate-shortcuts-in-your-state-31020.html

  2. Excellent article! I need to update my Will since the divorce… :-( During my years in LE, I was amazed at how little documentation citizens did before they got burglarized or robbed. Highly recommended!

    1. And a LOT of people forget to update beneficiaries after a divorce, resulting in new spouses and children being left out in the cold (sometimes literally). If you’re divorced, CHECK and double-check. Don’t forget retirement plans and bank accounts.

  3. Very nice article, thanks!
    We put all of this in place about five years ago, soft and hard copies, plus funeral directive, with prepaid items, Peace of mind. Also, did the inventorying of stuff storing the information. The inventory work is tedious, but needed, put it off for too many years. When you reach a certain age decade you get over the “I don’t want to plan for croaking…”, just one more smart financial step and ease the burden on those left holding the bag.

  4. This is on my to do list, really dont have any $ i mean REALLY NONE, no savings, no stocks, nothing, checking usually has a whopping 100$ in it if that, bank owns the truck, no credit cards,
    So my question Is, who really knows what i own?

    1. Doesn’t matter what you own, matters if you want the government involved totally or as little as possible, in your thing after your gone.

      1. They dont have any right to even sniff my grave as far as im concerned,,,
        The tree of liberty is thirsty

        1. I agree but we both know they don’t ask permission they ask forgiveness, sometimes.

  5. Thanks for the information Bogan, great article. I experienced the horrors of a person dying without any proper documentation at a relitive young age. My dad died when I was 16 and had no documentation what-so-ever. Because he was an alcoholic he also had not put away any money for our care, just in case. My Mom had to deal with all the legal “stuff” with no money and no resources. She even had to go to court to be appointed legal gardian for myself and my sister both minors. It was a true nightmare, watching her try to pay the court costs and still be sure the three of us had food on the table and the electric bill was paid, I was old enough to understand the situation and experience the stress.

    Because of this, when I married, at the age of 20, one of the first big things we did was go to base legal and each have a will drawn up and signed along with a full, military, powers of attorney. Many of our friends scoffed at us but I had lived through the reality and was not going to do it again. Hubby and I had been dating at that time and he watched the struggle and understood my terror. We even designated who should become guardians of any future children, if something happened to both of us. Over the years we have updated those documents many times, sometimes because of the state we were stationed in, sometimes because something in the documents needed to be changed. No matter what we have kept those documents updated and in a safe place, not a bank.

    Also please consider a prepaid funeral plan. It leaves your family with no decisions to make, under stress and pressure. I saw, first hand, how the funeral directors pressures grieving family members to spend more, “do better by” your loved one, even when they know it’s unreasonable. By doing a prepaid plan you designate how YOU want it done leaving the funeral director out of the loop entirely.

    One of the kindest, most loving things you can do for the people you love most in the world is to have all the necessary documents done, signed and stored safely. Admitting your mortality is not weakness it is reality.

    IN GOD WE TRUST

  6. So i guess my question is how is the ownership of stuff determined? Like table saws, planers, sewing machines, reloading equipment, you know, stuff.
    Can i just get a document drawn up that says so and so owns this this and this etc etc?
    Theres a lot of little stuff too, who is to say who owns what?
    Thats my only worry is to establish that everything here is owned by my significant other, i want that established now while im alive so it cant be touched anyway,

    1. I knowwwww
      Go get a lawyer, that costs money though, right now im just worried about keeping the lights on and car paid,,,

      1. Nailbanger:
        Dave Ramsey has a site that you can purchase these documents for each state specific believe they are about $39 dollars. Take a look and see what you think.

    2. Nailbanger,

      You can specify how you want your personal property distributed in your will. However, in most states that I know about, when you write your will, you include a provision that says something like, “I plan to leave a memorandum of how my personal property shall be distributed.”

      That way, your distribution of personal property doesn’t become public record. (You wouldn’t want a public record of who inherits your 2 year supply of tp.) Also, you can change that memorandum as your personal property changes without having to pay a lawyer to change your will. So, if you trade your car in for a new one, or change bank accounts, or buy some stock, you just take care of that in your memorandum.

      In my earlier post I included a link to a nolo site that gives a link to each state’s probate laws. You should read your state’s law.

    3. Nailbanger
      if you have any concerns/doubts that someone may try to do a “grab” from your significant other, please be proactive and save her the grief. I have seen the most bizarre things/relatives try to do grabs, etc..

      In general, couldn’t you just state “EVERYTHING” goes to… (and if there are a few things you wish to go to someone else, could you state “with the exception of such and such goes to…?”
      things I have seen folks do…
      -makes lists (with serial numbers) with names of who gets what
      -take photos again with list of who gets what, write names on back of photos etc.
      -for anything new you are purchasing, make sure (if possible) significant other’s name is also on bill of sale with yours

      1. I actually want to establish her as the owner of all the stuff now, not worried about her walking away, its just a feeling i have that it would be best for me to really own nothing,

        1. Nailbanger
          how about then, you “sell” it to her, complete with proper paperwork? From what I understand, one may sell one’s goods for any amount of money one wishes…Would that work?

          1. Was thinking about that, making up a bill of sale, want it all established that i dont own anything, feel its better under the circumstances

        2. Nailbanger,
          There are hidden dangers in transferring all your property to someone else — even someone you totally trust.

          If that person dies before you do, then it becomes part of that person’s estate.

          If you die first and the assets are in your name, your heirs get a stepped up basis in that asset for capital gains purposes. If you transfer the property before you die, your heir might have to pay more taxes. If you someday get into financial trouble or have to go on Medicaid, any transfers could be looked on by the government as fraudulent and one or both of you could be charged with a crime.

          If that person has a future debt, that property could be attached to satisfy that debt. Even if that person doesn’t have a debt now, it could happen in the future with today’s litigious society. She could be in an accident and a judgment could be obtained against her. She could have a business debt. Someone could sue her for defamation.

          There are lots of other problems. As an accountant, I saw some of them. Once an elderly lady transferred her house to her grandson. He died. His wife inherited her house and evicted the grandmother.

          Do a Transfer on Death as I suggested above.

          1. DasyK and Nailbanger

            good points DaisyK…— also, for example, if both were killed in a crash, all would go to her relatives (how you feel about them?)

    4. Nailbanger;
      If I may; you should have everything that’s “registered” or has a title changed to have here as an “or” owner; such as a Truck. The title would read ‘Nailnabger or Ms. Girlfriend’ do NOT set it up as “and” ONLY “or”, also the same with Property.

      As far as “stuff” the Will can be very specific, right down to the TP (new or used). The problem with a Will, anyone can contest it. As I mentioned, inquire in a Trust, see what it involves to set one up. Remembering that in a Trust, the Trust owns everything, not you, so if you pass, the Trust still owns it all, and MUST by law be followed to the letter by the Executor.

      1. The trust route is how everything of value was set up for parents side, everything is owned by the trust, is going to stay that way too, hopefully makes it easier, theres real assets there, as far as myself, i suppose that could work too, even though theres no real property or financial assets, anything that would go in there are basicly tools, and pretty much thats it, well besides my tp stash and beans/rice but lots of hard core stuff, plus a tractor and the mule, the executor and trustees would be my sweety and her sister, they are about the only people i really trust in this world. Guess im a bit of a cynic eh,,,, but ive seen family literally fighting over screwdrivers and doodads, pretty pathetic if you ask me, but a true litmus of the decay of our society. So put that on top of my distaste for government and it could be ugly

        1. Nailbanger
          Ju s t a suggestion…
          I have bartered many times with my lawyer for legal work.
          You have skills. You maybe able to trade a project.
          They buy material.you furnish labor for an agreed on project.
          You pay filing fees. He /she provides labor to set up your legal forms.
          I have done that numerous times.
          You might be surprised. Worth a shot…

    5. Nailbanger,
      Because you want to do something very specific, it may be worth it to visit an estate attorney and pay the hourly rate to get the exact info/wording/documentation you need to protect your lady in the event you pass, or something happens while you are still alive. Because you are not married, you may run into tax issues depending on what you want to re-title in her name, or depending on how long you have lived together there may be common-law issues, or other considerations if you have had a co-mingling of funds.
      Also, because you are not legally married, you may need to specifically exclude even distant family members by name in your will, as they could try to raise the issue that they are legal heirs because your lady is not legally family in the event you pass away.
      If you are concerned that something could happen while you are alive, and want to have no assets to your name, the estate attorney can draft wording to be sure the transfer of assets would stand up in the case of a legal challenge by any sort of agency if that makes sense.

    6. You can get generic documents (will, living will and such) at office depot or staples. Fill in the blanks on who gets what then have it notarized and recorded at the courthouse. In my state these are accepted as legally binding and the cost is minimal. Check and see if this sort of thing will work in your area.

  7. Bogan;
    Dang good article Sir.

    My 2¢, a ‘Living Trust’ is well worth the investment (mine cost $600 for a Lawyer to totally set up), basically I own absolutely nothing; everything and I do mean everything is owned by the Trust, even the 600 rolls of TP and the dirty socks.

    The POA, the Will, the Advanced Directive are all part of the overall package (Trust). I even have the directive of what happens with Blue if I’m toast. I was advised for legal proposes the Vehicles should not be part of the Trust, but have a second owner as as an “or” on the titles. Property can also be set as “Upon Death”. BUT changing the Property “Upon Death” is a LOT harder than a simple amendment to a Trust.

    I would like to say, you mentioned several time “a trusted family member”. The Executor and Beneficiary do not necessarily need to be Blood. In my case I have several “backup” Executors (and honestly the Beneficiary is not my family), set as part of the Document.

    I agree 1000% to have a Lawyer set up a Trust, or at least review all of the Documents (Will, POA, AD). For if you get just one pizzed off relative or ???? they can hold up everything in court for many years.

    One word, if you don’t have the correct documents, the Lawyers and Courts (Probate) WILL end up with everything you worked your entire life for. I know of a person that passed; his entire estate was taken for “Court Cost and Legal Fees” and I do mean EVERYTHING, but approx. $1000 per living relative (5 in all) all from a $900K Ranch plus approx. $80K of “stuff”, talk about criminal, our Justice at work.

    1. Good input,
      I have concerns about relatives, etc trying to claim they should be able to get this or that, also have issue with the gov thinking they have a right to anything, so i rather have nothing..
      Another issue i have run into is others,,, like i have a heart attack and crash into someone and then their family comes after my estate, rather not have an estate to begin with,,, a friends family is dealing with that now, basicly a greedy lawyer is trying to take everything they own because the old guy who ran into one of the peoples relatives had a nice home and lots of stuff,,, i can totally see myself slumping over in the seat hauling down the road in my truck and wack some local POS then have one of the many ambulance chasers come after my “estate” because of my last name, never mind i dont even own a house or anything substantial, but lawyers dont care, they are greedy, people are greedy, the government and courts are greedy,,,, did i mention, i think they are ALL greedy!

      1. Nailbanger,
        I just read this post after responding to another you made, so I’m kind of repeating myself. You can have your will drafted to specifically exclude people by name, or to leave them each the sum of $1, or to leave a certain person a certain item (and no others) if you want someone to have just one specific thing (like a piece of equipment of family memento). The important thing (as I understand it) is to be sure that any family member you want excluded be excluded in writing so they cannot contest that they have a right to whatever you do have as a “living relative”.

        1. So Cal Gal & Nailbanger
          You’re exactly correct about the Exclusions of Relatives, an easy way is to include in the Trust Body “All living Relatives are to receive the total sum of One US Dollar”
          As far as ‘items’ that should be included in the “Will” and made as an attachment in the Trust, it can be very VERY specific.

    2. NPR you are so right a Revocable Living Trust is the only way to go. Just remember once you created the trust you have to put the stuff in it. Also with this type of trust I keep and control what goes in and out of it. I actually created the trust myself and had for years but I never put anything it. Then about five years ago after I stop moving around I got a lawyer had him check the trust over and he said it was good. I had him help me deed the house over to it and then on my own I put all my other valuables in it. I didn’t put my car in it, its 11 years old with 210,000 miles, I’ll let them fight over that. I also create a Will to cover anything that was not in the trust and also to identify certain items going to certain people. I too have a list of Executors it line, but mine are all blood relatives. It is a good idea as you said to have a lawyer look it over if you create it, I’m glade I did it was well worth the money.

      1. A trust is good if you have a lot of assets. Remember, though, you have to keep the trust current with the State. In most states a Registered Agent for Service must be appointed and filed with the State. The trust and the Agent are then Public Record. Also there is an annual fee and an annual report that must be made. In Wyoming that costs $100/year last time I checked.

        1. DaisyK
          Good point.
          Here in NM, only a first time filling is required (the Trust Lawyer will do that), and the POA,/AD must be revisited once every 5 years.
          Hence check with a Lawyer.

  8. The advanced health care is is so very important. I recall one older lady coming to the ER with a heart attack who had one. she told us she was a no code but she had a grand-daughters wedding to go to in six months and intended to be there. She wanted us to do whatever was needed to take care of her. I asked her was that a statement to rescind her code status and she said yes, i asked another nurse if she had heard it and she said yes. I then told the patient we were cancelling her no code status and please renew it after the wedding. We then notated the chart. Isigned it and my coworker witnessed it.

    Another patient we had come in was a young lady who had overdosed in a suicide attempt. She had written in lipstick across her chest NO CODE. Killing yourself is murder in states without a right to die law. In those states criteria must be met. We ignored her request.

    Lastly, Hospitals have gotten very good at prolonging the life of dying people. many times keeping them alive for months or even years past their time to pass. This is EXTREMELY expensive. I have heard it said that for the average person 99% of their lifetime medical expenses will be in the last ear of their life. You may have the best will in the world but it will be all for naught if your estate owes the hospital hundreds of thousands of dollars for the months spent in ICU before you pass.

    1. me
      You are correct on the cost of hospitals and other medical, My late wife’s bills were well over $500K for the 3 years of Cancer Treatment.
      BTW, money is nothing compared to a life.

  9. Bogan,
    Thank you for the guest article, this is very good info. We need to do some updating of our documents, this is a good reminder of the importance of that.

  10. This is one area we are sorely deficient. I was thinking a living trust instead of a will. I really need to get going on this now.

  11. A timely article for the new year.
    I have done this ever since I started making real money in my career.
    Documentation is a must.
    Also keeping it up to date adding or removing info is at least a yearly thing. I do it twice sometimes 3 or 4 times.
    Best money you will ever spend!
    This is how the Uber Rich folks do it.
    No reason to reinvent the wheel.
    Just mirror what they do.
    As long as you play by the rules they set up.
    (For their maximum benefit btw.)
    This is one thing I would not procrastinate on doing.

  12. Timely article, Ken. My wife and I were talking about these subjects last week, wondering if we have our things in order if something happens to one or the other of us. As far as our estates, we don’t have much, and the survivor would need all of our combined assets (home, business, autos) to continue living. We’ve been fairly vigilant over the years at having “my name OR her name” put on everything that we can that is joint ownership and has a deed or title. That should allow full ownership of those items to remain with the survivor as far as I know. As far as tools, family heirlooms, and other small items, we try to get those items to our chosen recipient now if possible, while we’re still around. That’s about the only way to really know that they got them. The problem comes up when the item needs to be stored here until they have room or need for it, or it’s something that the wife and I still need to use. All we can do then is to notify all of the heirs of the intended transfer of the item to the one heir (after sufficient discussion amongst the heirs about who wants what and who gets what), and then tape a note to it if possible with the heir information on it.

    CD in Oklahoma

  13. For the what’s it worth column. Some states (all?) recognize hand written wills. One of our daughters-in-law was raised by her step-father who had three children of his own who disowned him when he divorced their mother and married our daughter-in-law’s mother. They refused to have any contact with him for over thirty years. When his health started failing, our daughter-in-law cared for him until he died. About five years prior to his death he had a will drawn up by a lawyer leaving all his possessions, including his debt free home, to her. This will was filed with the county clerk. His biological children began visiting him about a month before he died, after many years of avoiding him, saying they wanted to repair relations. After the death and before the funeral, the biological children confronted our DIL with a hand written will signed by the father and informed her that they were going to challenge the prior will. Long story short, the judge acknowledged the hand written will leaving everything to them as valid and that it prevailed because it depicted the last will and testament of the deceased since there was no proof he was coerced or was not of sound mind when he signed and dated it.

    The lesson here is if you have some gold diggers in the family, you might want to limit unsupervised access to those in the twilight of their life.

  14. Excellent article on a very important topic!

    I’ve had estate settling duty for both my Aunt and Dad in CA (I was sole heir), and also as Successor Trustee for my best friend in FL, who unexpectedly fell ill & died 6 months later after significant time in/out of ICU & rehab (I was also her POA for Health Care).

    It’s critical to know your individual state laws.

    In CA, my Aunt had all her property titled as either Joint Tenancy, TOD/POD, or with a stated Beneficiary, plus a Will for personal/incidental property (furniture/clothes, etc.). My Dad did the same, EXCEPT for his house, which was titled in his name only, and named me as sole beneficiary in his holographic Will.

    My Aunt’s affairs were settled in under three months by providing copies of death certificates to all involved parties (insurance, pension, stocks, DMV, house deed). My Dad’s house took over a year, and $20K+ in attorney’s fees to go through the Probate process.

    In FL, my friend had a Trust (with her church as beneficiary with some specific bequests to distant relatives), but had not included either her car or condo in it due to advice from a sleazy (IMHO) attorney. FL requires that anything going through Probate has an Executor who is a FL resident (or did at the time), which meant someone else had that role. I handled all the Trust related assets (condo contents, banks, pension, stocks, etc.) in under 3 months. Again, Probate took well over a year, and depleted any significant assets from the sale of condo or car due to attorney & Executor fees to the tune of ~$50K.

    Whatever you decide to do after researching your state, find a way to pass your assets along to your heirs OUTSIDE of Probate. Probate is just a scheme to find more receipts for the gov, and a vehicle for less-than-@#$%! attorneys to profit from a loved one’s death. Also, anything in Probate cases is public record, where the other ways of transferring property are generally not (except for real estate).

    Interestingly, 10 years ago, a simple Trust in CA cost about $2-4K to have an attorney draw up. Once I moved, I did mine here for $400, and revisions have been less than $75..

    And yes, this is a pet peeve of mine, lol!

  15. My father died without a will at age 59. My mother was 56 at the time. My brother and I hired an attorney who drew up papers showing that we relinquished all heirship to our mother. He also drew up new deeds and titles showing mother as sole owner of all property, presented this to the judge who signed off, all for $500. Of course, this is a best case scenario, where there was no contention or dissent.

  16. Retired military can go to the nearest JAG office and they will write a living trust for free.

  17. A Legal Document that I would highly recommend, very quickly, is a notarized copy of your home survey, complete with boundary lines, and the deed, also notarized. In grid-down, it could become difficult to prove your property boundaries, and ownership. Would also plan to prove ownership of any land improvements. Everyone needs notarized copies of birth certificates, marriage licenses and divorce paperwork. Titles for all cars, tractors, lawnmowers, RV’s, and boats. Personally, I Would not store these documents in a bank lock-box, as a “grid down” could still prevent the rightful owner from obtaining them., as already happened during the Great Depression.

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