Estate planning can be a complex process, and it is never pleasant to predict the end of yours or a loved one’s life. However, a carefully-planned estate can help your family avoid the headache of dividing an inheritance, a problem that has strained many relatives’ relationships in the past. You can write your will yourself; and yes, I suppose you could essentially write it on a napkin––but without an attorney’s help your decisions can easily be contested by the state, your heirs, and other parties you may not want to mess with your property, your rights or your decisions.
There are four documents that every person, no matter his or her age, should have in the event of an untimely tragedy:
- Last Will & Testament
- Living Will
- Durable Power of Attorney
- Health Care Surrogate
What is Power of Attorney, and Who Has It?
Power of Attorney designates who makes legal decisions concerning your estate if you have reached an end-stage condition or passed away. You can name anyone you like, from a trusted family member to an attorney you already have on retainer. Just remember: they will be signing on the dotted line for all of your legal matters.
Perhaps the person possessing power of attorney is also your Health Care Surrogate and can execute both living wills and last wills & testaments (decisions about your healthcare vs. decisions about your property/finances).
How Old Do I Have to Be To Write a Binding Last Will and Testament?
In most cases, you must be a legal adult (18 years of age or older) to write a Last Will & Testament. It must be written in sound judgment and mental capacity, and you must name an executor to carry out your wishes after your death. In many cases, the executor also holds durable power of attorney. An executor is responsible for the following:
- Taking inventory of property
- Appraising and distributing assets to beneficiaries
- Paying taxes to Federal and State Governments
- Settling debts owed by the deceased
How Often Should I Update My Will?
A Last Will & Testament can be updated at any time by the person whose estate it concerns. There are a few key lifestyle changes that can signal when it might be time for a revision:
- Has the value of your assets changed?
- Are you recently married, divorced or remarried?
- Have you recently had a child?
- Have you moved to a different state?
- Has your executor become incapacitated, or has your relationship changed in a substantial way?
Generally, an Estate Planning Attorney is an excellent option for making sure that you have at least a basic will and that your will is up-to-date and reflects both your current lifestyle, assets and relationships—and they are trained to keep an eye out for changes that might affect the disbursement of your estate.
So the answer is yes, you can write your will on a napkin—it probably just won’t be distributed the way you truly want it to. To ensure that your Last Will & Testament is carried out to the letter, it’s best to enlist the help of a qualified Elder Law attorney in your area. That way, you can save your family the sometimes bitter fighting that comes with dividing up a deceased loved one’s belongings.
Attorney Heidi S. Webb specializes in Estate Planning and Small Business Law. Her office is located in Daytona Beach, FL, but she serves clients throughout Ormond Beach, Port Orange, and surrounding areas. Contact (386) 257-3332 to set up a free consultation.