Four Ways to Ensure Your Estate Plan Will Hold Up in Probate Court

You have decided to put together an Estate Plan, either a Trust or a Will. This is a fantastic start! It is important to understand that even if you have a completed Will or Trust, to be enforceable in Probate Court, they must be validly executed under the laws of the state of your death and/or the laws of any state in which you hold property.

Our recommendation is to follow the following rules, to make sure that wherever your documents end up, the court will recognize them as legal and binding.

  1. Know the Contents. Even if you draft the documents yourself, understanding all of the terminology in the documents is extremely important to ensure you do not unintentionally leave out members of your family. In order to have a valid will, most states require the Testator (person who the will is about) to know the contents of the will and the proposed distributions. There are similar requirements for a Trust, which is considered a contract for the estate.
  2. Sign/Initial Every Page. For Wills specifically, most states recommend – if not outright require – that every page have the Testator’s initials. This verifies that it is the original document and that all pages have been included by the Executor (the person that handles your belongings after you pass). Every page, including the signature and witness pages, should have the Testator’s initials and a page number.
  3. Witnesses and Notary. In nearly all circumstances, a Will must be signed by two witnesses in front of a Notary Public of the state. While there are some situations where this is not required, the safest way to proceed is to have all of the parties in one room while the Testator signs the Will. Once the Will is signed, it is also wise for the witnesses to fill out a self-proclaiming affidavit which states that Testator: signed, knew what she was signing, understood the documents, and was mentally competent to sign at the time she signed the document. Even one missing signature could mean the difference between your wishes being carried out or not.
  4. Having An Attorney Review Your Documents. The best way to make sure that your documents do what they are meant to is to have a professional review them for you! If you have a set of old documents collecting dust in your safe or if you found a form and filled it out online, bring it in for an attorney to review. Estate planning attorneys do this every day, you likely will only do it once in your lifetime – make sure it is done the way you intend.

For any questions related to Estate Planning or Business Law, please contact us by calling 860.670.3535 or emailing jfournier@jeflegal.com.

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