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Estate Planning Tips to Help Find Your Will and Assets

You have spent a lot of time and money on estate planning documents to ease the burden on your loved ones and ensure your wishes are fulfilled after you move out, but those efforts will be in vain if your documents and assets cannot be located.

This article offers some tips to help you find your will and assets after you die. Be aware that there are risks involved in exposing information about your will and assets, so think carefully about ways to help your loved ones after death without putting yourself at risk.

Sometimes clients tell me that they are sure that their deceased loved one made a will, but the client cannot find it. Sometimes these wills appear. Other times they don’t.

It is important to keep your original will in a safe place and in a place where it will be found after your death. If a will is taped under a drawer or hidden in a secret compartment, chances are good that no one will find it unless they know where to look. Tell the artist(s) you name where to find them. If you’re worried about someone sneaking a peek into the will before you hand it over, consider keeping it in a safe or safe deposit box.

If the original will cannot be found, a copy can be used instead, but there are additional barriers to obtaining a will-admissible copy, so it is ideal to have the original. I also advise my clients to keep copies of their wills in case the original cannot be found, destroyed by fire, or taken by some nefarious character who would benefit if the will is not found. Save a digital copy and email a copy to your artist(s) if you don’t mind them getting an extended review. If you have security or privacy concerns, at least let them know where copies can be found.

Finally, if you can’t find the original will or a copy, call the lawyer who prepared it. He or she may still have a copy, but don’t count on it.

Another tip to make sure your new will is probate-ready is to destroy your old wills and delete the old copies after the new will is made. Although creating a new will cancels all previous wills, an old will can be admitted to a will if no new will is found.

The same problems arise with the property of the deceased. They may be difficult or impossible to find. Often one of the spouses is in charge of finances, and the other spouse does not know what assets he owns. Most of us do not know all the assets that our parents, grandparents and other family members own.

Wills do not list all of the assets a person owns, in part because we won’t have the same assets on the day we die as we did when the will was made. We regularly buy and sell cars, houses and other property. We save money and then spend it. We change banks, insurance policies, investment accounts, jobs and retirement benefits, and so on. Wills generally accommodate these changes.

Also, there is no centralized search tool that generates a list of all assets owned by a person at the time of death. There are search tools for certain assets such as real estate, business interests, vehicles and other assets registered in the name of the deceased, but these searches can be time consuming, expensive and do not guarantee that all assets will be found. Information about bank accounts, investment accounts, stocks, life insurance and valuable collections is not available at all.

I advise my clients to keep a list of their assets in their will, or somewhere this list can be found. It is important to update the list periodically, adding information about new assets and deleting assets that you no longer own. If you’re not going to keep a list, keep your asset records in one place.

These tips may also be helpful for the debts of the deceased. Secured creditors are entitled to notice of the administration of their debtor’s property. Notice is acceptable for unsecured creditors, but notice is generally recommended as it limits the time a creditor can make a claim for an estate.

Having records of existing debts also helps verify the authenticity of the creditor’s claim, if one has been made. Consider making a list of debts and creditors along with your list of assets.

If you work exclusively in the digital field, your loved ones will likely need access to your digital files, computer or mobile phone, so make sure they have a way to access this information.

Ryan Webster

This article is not exhaustive and is not intended as legal advice for anyone or any particular situation. If you need legal advice on the matters discussed in this article, contact a qualified lawyer.

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