Where there’s a will…

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Where there’s a will…

Recently someone we knew died, leaving a friend as executor of his estate, or so it seemed. However, the will that was on file was notarized and had a second signature, but no names or addresses. We were able track down the notary (and therefore the second witness), but it was then realized that the will was a copy, not an original, and thus didn’t count. A second will was subsequently discovered, this one notarized but lacking a second witness. English common law (and therefore most state laws) requires two witnesses (some require three) for a printed will to be valid. Unless something else turns up, this person will end up having died intestate, in spite of his belief that he had a will.

In retrospect, one might ask how the person who downloaded the will from the Internet didn’t notice the big line, with the words “witness” underneath. Had he, or the person who notarized it, thought to ask why it was there, and thought to have someone sign it, if only to avoid the awkward blank space, the will would have been valid.

In talking to a number of people we have come to several conclusions. First, you should have a will. Make sure it is valid and make sure people know where it is.

Second, at a certain point you should make sure that you have executed a power of attorney, and that original copies are available for when you become incapacitated.

Third, you should have a living will/health care proxy (see the September 1999 issue of ÆGIS). Make sure that your wishes are known and that copies are readily available.

Finally, notwithstanding actor Edmund Gwenn’s storied observation that (unlike comedy) dying is easy, it is not cheap and there are a certain expenses that need to be taken care of while the body is still warm. It is therefore prudent to make sure that enough cash is sitting around and available to cover things like cremation or burial. Cremation is relatively inexpensive – generally under $1,000 at the moment – but someone still has to come up with that amount of money out of pocket. Cash locked in a safe deposit box is not readily available when needed

Dying is frequently a traumatic event, both for the person who dies and those who survive. It behooves us all to try to make it as easy a process as can be done for those on both sides of the grave.

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