Finalizing Your Documents: Why Drafts Aren’t Enough

When you work with an estate planning attorney the process usually starts with an initial meeting with the attorney.  During that meeting clients and the attorney discuss the estate planning goals, the people important to the plan and where assets should be distributed.  When client and attorney agree on how to proceed the attorney will send you drafts of the agreed upon estate planning documents for your review. 

Drafts of estate planning documents are just that, drafts.  The drafts usually contain most, if not all, of the provisions you discussed with the attorney during your initial meeting.  In some drafts there may be a few blanks of details you needed to further consider.  Once a client receives and reviews the drafts they might find questions that change how they want the document to look.  Additionally, as clients process what was discussed with the attorney they may determine their initial idea for distributing their estate will not work the way they intended and drafts may need revisions.

The drafted documents are not an estate plan until they are properly executed according to state laws.  Creating a will, trust, power of attorney or health care directive involves following specific legal rules when signing the documents.  Some documents only require a notary, others only need two witnesses.  For some documents there may also be an industry best practice of witnesses and a notary.

It is rare that a drafted document would be administered in court as anything other than affirming the client received a draft but did not choose to execute the documents. Finalizing your documents ensures they meet all legal requirements, making them valid, legally binding, and administrable in court.  Sadly, sometimes people might challenge your wishes. Having a finalized estate plan with all the legal boxes checked makes it much harder for others to question or dispute what you decided.  Working with an estate planning attorney to draft and finalizing your estate planning documents will guide you through the legal requirements and make sure everything is in order.

Finalizing an estate plan now does not mean you are stuck with this plan forever.  Life happens and our goals and important people can change throughout our lives.  Having a completed executed plan now allows you to make changes later and then execute that new estate planning document.  Note, if you are wanting to make changes to an existing estate plan do not write on your original documents or you may invalidate them.

Remember, when it comes to estate planning, the final executed version is the one that truly matters.