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Ten tips: Will you or will you not?

By LAURA T. COFFEY
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 28, 2002

Preparing a will can seem like a daunting experience, particularly if you've been putting it off. But the experience is necessary if you want to have any say in how your property gets distributed after your death.

1. Get hopping. If you fail to prepare a will, your property will be distributed according to Florida state law, which may not conform to your wishes.

2. Choose people you trust. Select someone to serve as your personal representative after your death, and appoint an alternate representative as a backup. Make sure both are willing to accept the responsibility of managing your property and settling your estate. The people you choose must either be Florida residents or relatives.

3. Have a lawyer draft your will. This is the only way to ensure that your will is valid and prepared in harmony with Florida laws. A lawyer also can advise you about appointing a guardian for any of your beneficiaries, establishing a trust or distributing property you own in another state.

4. Keep your will current. If you have made a change such as your marital status, state of residence or financial situation, you should update your will and have a lawyer review it.

5. Know your needs. A simple will may do the trick if your distribution plan is indeed simple -- say, if you want everything to go to your spouse and then be distributed equally among your children if your spouse does not survive you. If your situation is more complicated, it likely won't be enough.

6. Opt for a self-proving will. A self-proving will includes an affidavit, or sworn statement, attesting to the signatures on the will, so they don't have to be re-verified at the time of probate. It's not necessary, but it's a good idea.

7. Understand the ground rules. Anyone 18 or older and of sound mind can make a will. The person must be able to understand the consequences of his or her actions.

8. Plan ahead. If you keep your will in a safety deposit box, it may be a hassle for another person to get a court order to gain access to it if his or her name is not on the box. To get around that, you could add the name of someone you trust as a signatory on the box. The important thing is that you keep your will in a safe place and let your trusted loved ones know how to find it.

9. For help preparing a will, you can contact a Legal Services Network lawyer through AARP by calling toll-free 1-800-424-3410. AARP members can have a simple will drafted for $75 or two simple wills prepared for spouses for $100. If your will is more complicated, the lawyer will prepare it for a 20 percent discount.

10. For additional referrals to elder law attorneys in your area, visit the Web site ElderLawAnswers.com and type in your area code. The referral service is free.

-- Compiled by Laura T. Coffey.

Sources: AARP (www.aarp.org); CareScout (www.carescout.com); ElderLawAnswers.com (www.elderlawanswers.com)

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