You Do Have a Will, Don't You?
Making Sure It's Valid
Requirements vary from state to state regarding the validity of wills. Your lawyer will direct you in making sure that yours is valid.
A valid will must be dated, and signed by the person making the will, and at least one (usually two) witnesses. Generally, a will is a fairly straightforward document. Just make sure that you meet the basic requirements for validity to assure fewer problems for your heirs.
Deciding Where to Keep It
It's extremely important that your will is accessible in the event that it becomes necessary. While the original should be safely stashed away, it's a good idea to leave a copy of your will somewhere in your home, and for your spouse or another family member to know where it is.
The person who will be executor of your will also should have a list of your assets, and know where to find important papers regarding insurance and other legal and financial matters.
It's highly recommended that you update lists of your assets and liabilities each year. Having these on hand can make matters a lot easier for your executor if you were to die.
Many people keep their will, along with other valuables, in a safe-deposit box in their bank or credit union. Safe-deposit boxes are used to store personal property that is important or expensive, and difficult or impossible to replace. Many people use the boxes to store insurance policies, stock certificates, jewelry, birth certificates, property records, business contracts, adoption papers, inventories of household valuables, and so forth.
You have access to your safe deposit box during bank hours. Generally, two keys—one which you keep, and one that is kept at the bank—are needed to open the box. If you have your will in your safe-deposit box, make sure that a copy is available in a more accessible location, as well. And make sure that more than one family member knows the location of your safe-deposit box and where you keep your key. Many people make the mistake of sharing that information only with a spouse, never considering what would happen if both of you are killed in an accident.
A convenient time to update lists of assets and liabilities is when you're gathering your income tax paperwork in late January or early February.
If the only copy of your will is in your locked safe-deposit box, and you die on Saturday, for instance, your will would be inaccessible until the bank reopened Monday morning. And some states require that safe-deposit boxes be sealed at the time of death, although a survivor normally would be able to retrieve the will before that happened.
When you write and sign your will, your lawyer may suggest or request that the original copy be stored in their office vault. The charge is free, and a great service, if friends or family know that the will is held there. Also, the attorney who prepared your will does not need to be the same lawyer who works with your executor to settle your estate. The attorney who prepares your will is your lawyer. Your executor may prefer to work with someone else.
Regardless of where you choose to keep your will, it should be in a place that's known and accessible to others.
More on: Family Finances
Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Personal Finance in Your 40s and 50s © 2002 by Sarah Young Fisher and Susan Shelly. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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