Signing Your Will: What to Expect What to Do

Signing Your Will: What to Expect What to Do

By: Martin M. Shenkman, CPA, MBA, JD

Well this sounds pretty simple and boring! Not quite. A host of matters must be dealt with when you sign or will to make sure everything is done right, and that your goals are in fact achieved. The following is as checklist of just some of the items to consider:

  • It's not only about your will. Everyone needs a power of attorney, living will, health proxy and will. Many people will have trusts and other documents to sign as well.
  • Your will signing should be supervised by a lawyer, especially if there are any risks of someone challenging your will, if there is any question of your competency to sign a will, or there are any other extraneous factors.
  • Your lawyer should ask you questions at the will signing that you should be prepared and comfortable answering. These might include:
    • Have you read and understood the will and other documents you are signing? If you haven't you had best address this before the signing meeting.
    • Who are the family members that would be expected to inherit from you (in legal jargon, the natural objects of your bounty)? Who will actually inherit? If there is a discrepancy between the two, why?
    • What assets do you own that these heirs will in fact inherit? You should be prepared to describe the general nature of your assets and the approximate size of your estate.
  • The lawyer should ask you a number of questions to help confirm in front of the witnesses to your will that you are competent. You will likely have to state the date, name the location where you are signing the will, and perhaps describe some basic current events, like the name of the current President of the United States. If there is likely to be any question of competency, the lawyer might (or should) request letters from your physicians confirming your competency and describing your general health. Bear in mind, your competency is ultimately a legal decision for your lawyer, not a decision for your physicians.
  • Your will should be stapled and intact to make sure no pages could be lost or misplaced.
  • You should receive copies of all signed documents and know where the originals are held. Many lawyers will have you sign multiple copies of powers and living wills so you and other key people can also hold originals. However, you can never sign more than one will.
  • Be sure that a trusted adviser or family member, preferably a person named in your documents as agent and executor, has copies of all of your documents.
  • Understand how frequently you need to review to update your documents and under what conditions:
    • Yearly review, or is every second or third year enough?
    • New child.
    • Significant change in assets.
    • Move to a new state.
    • Health developments.
    • Significant change in objectives.
    • Other matters? Ask your lawyer.
  • You should make up a "To Do" list for post-signing steps you should take with your lawyer. There are always vital post-signing steps to take, Make sure you know yours. These might include:
    • Changing assets between spouses or partners to achieve tax, asset protection or other goals.
    • Reviewing or increasing life insurance coverage.
    • Providing copies of documents your attorney still needs (e.g., a beneficiary designation, deed, etc.).
    • Discussing your wishes with all of your agents, trustees and executors so that they will know your feelings (don't assume they know).
    • Review investments, insurance, and other ancillary planning matters that are vital to the success of your plan.

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