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Role of Wills in DC Estate Planning

A last will and testament is a person’s expressed wishes for the distribution of their assets at their death; it goes into effect at a person’s death. It often includes their wishes for burial or cremation, and the nomination of their personal representative. A common misunderstanding of wills is that they govern all of an individual’s assets. Wills only govern those assets in the decedent’s sole name at the date of their death that have not been previously funded into a trust, that don’t have beneficiary designations, and are not owned with a joint owner. To learn more about the role wills play in the estate planning process, consult with a DC estate planning lawyer today.

If Will Completed Outside DC

Generally, if the will was valid in the state of execution, it should be valid in the District of Columbia. However, if someone moves from the state where they originally created their will, they should have their plan reviewed by a DC estate planning attorney to ensure the estate is not exposed to DC specific taxes or other issues that may complicate the administration of the will.

Electing Against a Will

In DC, a spouse has the right to elect against the will if they have not previously waived that right in a pre-nuptial or a post-nuptial agreement. For example, if a last will and testament leaves a spouse with a very nominal amount and they choose to elect against the will, they are entitled to receive one third of the estate. Typically, electing against the will is an administrative expense and reduces the assets of the estate by the administrative expense associated with an election against the will. Electing against the will must be completed in the proscribed time period expressed by DC law.

Where To Keep a Will

There are often two options. The first option is keeping the will with your DC estate planning attorney in their firm’s safe deposit box. A person does not typically need their original will during their lifetime unless they choose to revoke or destroy it. The person can always find their will with their attorney who can access it from the firm’s safe deposit box.

The second option is to keep the will in safe place where it can be accessed and found after the person’s death. For example, a lot of individuals put their will in their personal safe or safe deposit box. It is important to ensure that someone knows where your will is stored and can access your original will after your death. Not being able to find the original will or finding one after the administration has already begun can result in additional expenses or administrative issues.

Process of Filing a Will With the DC Register of Wills

The DC Register of Wills does not offer the option of holding a person’s original will during their lifetime. A will is filed with the Register of Wills only after a person’s death. That’s one of the first steps in the DC probate proceeding process.