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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.