Make the preparations to have the inheritance documents available | Characteristics

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September is National Preparedness Month, an annual reminder to prepare for emergencies and natural disasters. While it is certainly necessary to take disaster precautions, we are often more interested in preparing for an unlikely disaster than in the much more likely reality of our own future decline.

September should also serve as a reminder to prepare for unwanted realities in life, not only by executing a solid estate plan, but also storing and distributing it appropriately.

One of the most frequently asked questions for estate planners is what to do with documents after they are created. Documents must first be distributed to the appropriate people and agencies, and then properly stored.

Most documents need to be distributed, but not necessarily in the same places. The type of document determines where it should be filed.

Lasting general powers of attorney deal with legal and financial matters. For this reason, signed copies of these documents must be given to financial institutions, financial advisers, insurance agents and any other organization involved in the finances or legal affairs of the principal.

Each agent listed in the document should have a copy. Regardless of whether the officer has immediate or spring powers, the officer must know what those powers are and must have the document on hand when using it.

Lasting general powers of attorney can be filed with the county clerk’s office, but this is usually not necessary. It is a bit expensive to register the power of attorney, and once registered, the document becomes available to the public. However, if the agent is transferring real estate or if the principal has already filed a power of attorney, any new or revised power of attorney documents must be filed.

In contrast, health care powers of attorney should not be publicly filed. However, each agent listed should have a copy. Additional copies should be given to doctors, the hospital, and any other medical group that the person sees on a regular basis.

The Do Not Resuscitate forms are unique. For DNR forms, the original should be kept in an easily accessible place in the house, such as on the front of the refrigerator, and the lower part of the form should be worn in a special DNR wristband.

Unlike lifetime documents which should be given to many institutions and offices, the will is usually not given to anyone other than agents. Each agent, such as an executor or trustee, listed in the document should have a copy.

Whether copies should also be given to beneficiaries is at the discretion of the testator. Keep in mind that grantees can be changed and knowledge of a previous document, and perhaps more useful, can cause problems during probate.

After the documents are distributed, the originals must be properly preserved. Even the best documents only work if they can be found, and most lawyers don’t keep copies of clients’ documents for life.

If possible, keep the original documents at home, and not in a safe which may be inaccessible when they are needed most. Also make sure each agent has a copy. While an original will is preferable for probate, a copy is certainly better than nothing.

Wherever documents are kept, the agent must know both the location and how to access the documents. If the documents are stored in a locked container, the agent must have a key or know where a key is.

Take the time at the end of September to make sure disaster planning is in place, both for a natural disaster and for the potential disaster of unexpected illness or death.

Cynthia Griffin is an elder law and estate planning lawyer with Burnett and Griffin PLLC in Elizabethtown. She can be reached at [email protected]

Cynthia Griffin is an elder law and estate planning lawyer with Burnett and Griffin PLLC in Elizabethtown. She can be reached at [email protected]


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