Monday, September 22, 2008

Safe Keeping of Documents

Once you’ve taken the time to complete your estate planning documents, it is important to keep the papers safe and secure. In Wisconsin a copy of a will is not considered a will, and is generally not accepted by the Register in Probate. That means that the original must be safely stored and available when needed. Several options are available for storage, each with pros and cons:

Safe-deposit box: While safe from destruction (by a fire) or tampering, safe-deposit boxes do generate a yearly fee (generally $35 or more). Also, the will is not readily available for quick changes. Most banks should allow a family member to access the box to search for a will, however, this may not always go as smoothly as planned.

Register in Probate: Wisconsin law allows a person to deposit a will with the register in probate in the county where he or she lives. Depending on county practice, there may be a service charge for the service. Drawbacks to this method are that the will is not readily available for changes, and the person may forget to take the will with them if he or she moves in the future.

Fiduciary’s safe: A trust company serving or nominated to serve under the will may offer its safe for storage. However, many people do not have a fiduciary entity named in the will, so this is not a common option.

Home Safe or Strongbox: Far more affordable and easy to access, home safes and strongboxes are a good option for most people. However, they do not guarantee safety from fire or tampering.

Retention by attorney: While a common practice in the past, the State Bar of Wisconsin does not promote drafting attorneys keeping client documents in the firm safe. Safe keeping by the attorney creates the impression that the attorney is seeking to preserve future representation for either updating the will or conducting the probate.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Renting Fact

One question that has come up several times in the past few months is – do we have to keep paying the rent for someone who has passed away? The answer is yes. Under Wisconsin law, the lease remains in effect even though the tenant has died. If rent is not paid, the landlord can seek payment through the probate practice.

If you are presented with this situation because you are helping taking care of a loved one’s final affairs, keep in mind the following:

  • Contact the landlord about the death immediately;
  • Request a copy of the lease;
  • Begin coordinating emptying and cleaning the premises;
  • Discuss ways to find a new tenant for the unit, hopefully ending the lease.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Can I Change My Will?

If you already have a will in place but wish to make changes, it is possible to amend or change the will without having to draft an entirely new document. A codicil is a basically a supplement to an existing will. It states that the underlying will should remain intact except for certain changes.

If the proposed changes are complex or involve removing beneficiaries, a codicil may not be appropriate and a new will should be drafted. A codicil is useful in the following circumstances:

  • Updating the name of a beneficiary, personal representative, guardian, and or trustee;
  • Changing the person named as the personal representative, guardian, and or trustee;
  • Adding a beneficiary; or
  • Making other minor changes within the document.

Since a codicil is a supplement to an existing will, it must be executed in the same manner as the will. This means changes should not be scribbled on the will, but rather drafted, signed, dated, and witnessed in the same fashion as the will.