We can all learn from our mistakes, but it’s better to learn from others’ mistakes, I think you’ll agree. This month in our Hoosier Estate Planning blog, we’re learning about pitfalls to avoid by recalling some big estate planning mistakes made by celebrities.

When Olympic sprinter Florence Griffith-Joyner died at age 38, her husband couldn’t find her original will, and therefore failed to file it with the probate court within 30 days of her death as required under California law. (In Indiana, the will is probated in the country where the deceased person lived at the time of his or her death and should be filed within three years of an individual’s death). Joyner’s mother got into a dispute with the husband over a promise Flo-Jo had made that her mother could live in their house the rest of her life. Since the original will was never filed, the judge eventually appointed a third party to administer the estate.

A will is for making one’s wishes known.  “Writing your will may be one of the most important things you’ll ever do.  A properly drafted will can help ensure that your property is divided the way you intended and benefits the people you intended,” plea.org explains. But what if there is no will to be found? The laws of intestacy (no last will and testament) kick in, which may mean the person’s real wishes are never carried out.

In fact, an original last will and testament is needed, not only a copy.  Before the court can accept a copy, as the Virginia Supreme Court clarified earlier this year, the person representing the deceased “must overcome a presumption that the original was destroyed by the testator with the intent of revoking the last will.”

So, not only is it important to document your wishes in a will, your loved ones must be able to find it! “Tell at least two people you trust where to find your will,” cautions Ashlea Ebeling of Forbes.

Possible places to store documents include bank safety deposit boxes, a cabinet at home, or a fire-resistant lock box. Sometimes clients of Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates request that we keep their documents. We retain the originals in a fireproof area, and we keep electronic copies that are backed up every fifteen minutes.

It’s important to avoid the mistake of the missing will!

By Rebecca W. Geyer