I met with a nice older lady recently who really just wanted a power of attorney prepared. As we discussed the various kinds of POA, she asked whether I would mind taking a look at the wills she and her husband had had prepared years earlier, before he developed Alzheimer’s Disease and before two of their four children had passed away.
As I reviewed the wills, they seemed well-drafted and had obviously been prepared in a lawyer’s office. As I turned to the signature pages at the end, however, my heart skipped a beat: although she and her husband had signed their respective wills and a notary had witnessed their signatures, the lines where the required two witnesses should have signed and the lines for their names were blank! She and her husband thought they had executed valid wills, and the wills stated their wishes properl; however, the wills were executed incorrectly, meaning that if either of them had died, that person would have died intestate (without a will). To make matters worse, her husband was now incompetent and unable to execute a new will, and since two of his children have since died, leaving children of their own, his estate would pass much differently than he had indicated in his will.
Fortunately, we will be able to adjust the client’s new will to largely overcome the problems her husband dying without a will would have caused; however, had she not asked me to review the wills, it’s likely neither of their estates would have passed the way they intended. Potential legal malpractice by her previous attorney aside, the moral of this story is to review your estate planning documents regularly. Usually, that’s just to make sure they’re current; however, in this case, the review prevented a big mistake from having dire consequences.
As always, the above is legal information, not legal advice, and it’s based on Texas law because I’m a Texas lawyer. Each person’s facts are different, so be sure to talk with an experienced estate planning lawyer if you have questions about what’s best for you and your family.
The picture’s just a cool sunset from a recent trip to Yellowstone. Enjoy!
Catchy, eh? To review basic physics and orbital mechanics (neither of which I ever took), the Coriolis effect is when it appears an object (a plane or a cannonball, for example) is veering off course, when actually the earth is rotating under the object - essentially, and with apologies to my buddies who are artillery types, the target is moving so you have to plan for the Coriolis effect in order to hit the target.
Applying the Coriolis effect to your estate planning (which, for our purposes today, includes advance directives like medical and financial powers of attorney), say you've named your spouse as your primary agent (executor, trustee, POA holder, etc.) and your spouse dies before you do. If you haven't planned for that contingency (you were wondering when I was going to get to that!), then your document can't help you because there's nobody to exercise the powers you granted. That's why we always insist that our EP clients provide at least one alternate agent for each position. The other thing you can do is make sure you're reviewing your documents every 3-4 years so that if it's necessary to add or remove a person or a bequest, you can make those revisions before it's too late. This turns your cannonball of a document into a GBU (guided bomb unit) that you can adjust while it's on its way to the target!
Can you tell I've been reading military stuff lately? As always, the above is legal information, not legal advice, and it's based on Texas law because I'm a Texas lawyer. Your situation will be unique to you, so you should always consult an experienced estate planning lawyer before making these decisions. And remember: with wills, powers of attorney and directives to physicians, when you need it, it's too late to get it. So don't wait.