THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
advance health care directive explains a settlor’s wishes about
medical treatment in case he or she is incapacitated. This way,
a settlor can explain his or her preferences about quality of life,
life support and invasive medical procedures before it is too
Executing both types of documents before they are needed
will reduce angst for you and your loved ones. Most states have
statutory short forms you can complete yourself. However,
these templates must be adhered to closely because even small
deviations can have profound effects on their validity. Don’t use
unvetted forms from unknown sources for these purposes.
Finalizing Your Documents.
When you are satisfied your
documents are flawless, find two witnesses who do not receive
anything under your will; gather before a notary (or a consular
officer, if you’re overseas); orally name the documents you will
be executing; state that you are “over 18, of sound and dispos-
ing mind, and free from duress”; and sign at the end. Each state
requires different formalities, so failing to perform all your
state’s requirements may invalidate part of your estate plan.
Guard the Originals!
Like setting your estate planning
goals, the first item on my checklist, this may seem too obvious
to worry about. But it is easy for Foreign Service families, who
spend years at a time overseas, to lose track of their original
will. Keep it in a safe deposit box, fire-resistant safe, with a trust
company, or at the court where it will be probated. Wherever it
is, your executor must know where it is and have access to it.
Make Good Choices.
The true value of estate planning lies in
making good choices at each step of the process. Take advan-
tage of the opportunity to research best practices, seek second
opinions and professional advice (if needed)—and resist the
temptation to rush to the signature line.
The true quality of your will,
and the likelihood that it will
withstand legal challenges,
depend on the wisdom with
which you have balanced
the competing interests
affecting your estate.