When our eldest child turned (gulp) 22 and our youngest was 19 (nearly 20), my husband and I decided that the time had come for updating our will. For the first draft of our will, which was completed shortly after our eldest child was born, I reworked the wording in a will we had been given by a family member, as we were to be guardians of his children. I read through that will and decided we didn’t need a lawyer. I would just change the names, retype the wills and we would be all set. (Perhaps some of you are horrified at this point.) Little did we know that we were missing some vital documents (more on that further on). If you are considering updating your will, here are some things you need to know.
About five years after our youngest son was born (I know, more horror), I updated our wills to reflect the addition of our son to the family. Again, I used the same document, but just added his name. I thought that was all we needed. Yes, we did (and still do) have life insurance policies. What more did we need?
There are differing views on whether or not a lawyer is needed to draft a will. Generally, (I learned this by listening to Clark Howard, one of my favorite consumer advocates) a person who has a tricky family situation, such as a blended family, or who has a lot of assets DOES need a lawyer. Someone who has a fairly simple situation may be able to use an online service such as Legal Zoom. However, there are other important documents which hardly anyone ever asks about, and we would not have known about these if we had not decided to meet with a lawyer.
Finding a Lawyer
To find a lawyer, I searched for “family law” and added the name of our town. Out of the three results listed, I chose the one who had no reviews yet. I’m not sure why I chose him, but it ended up being a good choice. He was very informative, and he wasn’t horrified by the fact that I had basically copied the will of another family member. You might be worried about the cost. It wasn’t huge, and to us, it was well worth it.
Updating Your Will: Surprise Number 1
My husband and I were surprised when he said, “Your wills are not the most important documents I am going to draft for you. Even more important will be your Durable Power of Attorney document.” Of course, I had heard of “Power of Attorney” and knew that whomever has power of attorney has the authority to make decisions for the person who made the designation. I always thought that was covered in the will by naming someone as Executor, but no. Yikes! All of these years we had assumed our personal affairs were in order, but that was not true. Are we the only people who did not know this?
Does this mean that a person needs a lawyer to draft a Durable Power of Attorney? No. Just as the Legal Zoom site can assist a person in crafting a will, it can also provide assistance in creation of a Power of Attorney document. There are other websites as well, such as Rocket Lawyer or Law Depot, who advertise free Power of Attorney documents.
Updating Your Will: Surprise Number 2
Our lawyer also reminded us to have our Advance Directives signed by witnesses and to get the documents turned in to our medical provider. Many people sign advance directives and never turn them in. Be sure to turn the form in to your medical provider.
Updating Your Will: Surprise Number 3
In addition, we learned that banks have a document called a Transfer on Death (TOD) form (called a Beneficiary form in some cases) that needs to be filled out. This document is necessary in order for the bank to distribute assets properly in the event of the death of the account holder or both account holders in a joint account. I had never heard of this document before.
Summarizing the Surprises
To summarize, here are the surprising things we have learned so far as we go through the process of getting our important documents in order:
- The Durable Power of Attorney form is more important than the will, at least in our case, maybe because we already had existing wills, but no Durable Power of Attorney designated.
- The Advance Directive document needs to be signed by witnesses and turned in to your medical provider, not just left in a file somewhere.
- You may have filled out a TOD form at your bank when you opened your account. It’s a good idea to check to see if there is one on file for you at your bank. There wasn’t one on file for us at our bank that we know of.
Are You Feeling Surprised or Validated?
Maybe as you were reading this you were thinking, how could they not know these things? Doesn’t everyone know these things about updating your will? Well, we didn’t, and maybe we are not alone in this. Maybe you already knew these facts and have your important documents in order. If so, I hope you are feeling very validated right now. Bask in your validation. Sincerely, well done! Were you surprised by anything in this article? Perhaps you will be encouraged to seek out the assistance you need to feel more secure about your important documents.
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