Your estate planning documents are critically important to you and your loved ones. They do everything from helping pay the bills when you cannot, advise doctors and hospitals about your treatment preferences, and distribute your assets after you pass away. With so much on the line, here are a few tips for safeguarding your estate planning documents from inadvertent (or intentional) tampering or destruction.
Have a Heart (to Heart)
One of the best things you can do to protect your estate plan is to discuss your wishes with trusted loved ones and friends. While your documents usually control any estate planning issues that arise, talking with other people and letting them know your desires and prohibitions helps if there is any ambiguity in the documents. Although it may be uncomfortable to talk about end-of-life issues, it is also a perfect opportunity to make sure those closest to you understand your wishes and reasoning, especially if you think your answer would surprise them.
To Spring, or Not to Spring
Your Financial Power of Attorney is a very powerful document. In Georgia, these documents give your agent broad powers over your assets and finances. Unless you specify otherwise Georgia Financial Power of Attorney designations will be both durable (i.e. they will continue to be effective after you cannot make decisions for yourself) and immediately effective.
Choosing a trustworthy agent is the first, and most vital, means to protect yourself. However Georgia also allows for a “springing” Financial Power of Attorney. This means the document will not be effective until a specified event happens; such as becoming disabled or temporarily unable to communicate. Additionally, the Financial Power of Attorney must be presented by the agent for most transactions. Therefore, keeping the documents in a safe place known and accessible to the agent, but not in the agent’s hands already, can prevent abuse or inadvertent alteration or destruction of the Financial Power of Attorney.
Where’s the Will?
Unless you want Georgia to distribute your assets for you, you need a will to get your property to those who deserve it most after you pass away. So, protecting your will is just as important as making it, because Georgia law makes it easy to inadvertently invalidate your Last Will and Testament.
First, never mark, scratch off, tear, burn, or do anything that will alter or destroy a “material portion” of your will. Georgia law presumes any such acts were meant to revoke your will. If your will is revoked, Georgia law does not automatically assume you wanted a previous will to “revive” and become effective again.
If you keep the original copy of your Last Will and Testament at your home, be sure to keep it in a fireproof container. Many people use fireproof safes for this purpose, but you can also put your estate planning documents, including you will, into special cylinders to keep in your freezer. These cylinders usually have special stickers to put on your fridge that notify paramedics and other first responders important documents are inside.
No estate plan is complete without a plan for storing your estate planning documents. So, when you build your estate plan, be sure to talk with your trusts and estates attorney about a plan for storing your original documents.
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