Ask the Probate Judge—2006 Resolutions
Rudd, appeared December 29, 2005, Albuquerque Journal, Business Outlook
Reprinted with permission
I had hoped to write
the entire column in verse, but I discovered I was not that clever. Instead,
I offer ten law-related resolutions for readers' consideration in the new
1. Those of you who have left your unsigned legal documents languishing in your lawyer's office all year, pick up the telephone and make an appointment to sign the documents once and for all.
2. If you insist on preparing and signing your own will, make sure your will is properly witnessed by two people, both of whom are present with you throughout the signing.
3. If you must revoke your will, do so "on the will" itself or create a new will or codicil. Remember that a separate, notarized revocation of a will does not work in New Mexico.
4. Now that almost one year has passed since Terri Schiavo's death, if you have not initiated conversations regarding your own health care wishes with your family or potential decision-makers, do so sooner rather than later. "The best defense is a good offense" applies to matters of the law as well as sports. Take a deep breath and make your wishes known. Your family will thank you for doing so.
5. If you cannot find the original will for a deceased person, do not blame the probate court for not accepting a copy. New Mexico law requires the original will in informal probate cases, and all thirty-three probate judges have taken an oath to uphold the state's laws and constitution.
6. If you are currently serving as the personal representative of an estate, resolve not to close the estate until ALL estate work is complete, including signing a personal representative's deed to the new owners of the decedent's house, filing taxes, paying creditors and distributing all assets of the estate.
7. Personal representatives should also resolve to communicate with the heirs or devisees to avoid future conflicts and expenses. If a dispute is brewing, call a family meeting and decide if a contested probate is the best way to honor your parent or loved one's memory.
8. Do not thwart your estate plans by creating a will that leaves all of your property in equal shares to your children and then adding only one child's name as a beneficiary to your assets. Remember that assets with beneficiary designations are not affected by your will. The beneficiary designations generally "trump" devises in a will.
9. Think very carefully before adding an adult child (or anyone else) as a joint tenant to your assets. Remember that if the child is sued, files for bankruptcy, gets a tax lien from the IRS or any other judgment against them, your joint tenancy property can be attached to pay that child's debts.
10. Resolve in 2006 to express appreciation to all who help you, including family, friends, neighbors, co-workers and staff. When you encounter a government, judicial, or private employee who exhibits a good public service and work ethic, thank them. Better yet, let someone know.
Into the new year we
We start afresh and hope for snow.
I bid Ye all, a year's farewell.
New questions next year, new tales to tell.
Wassail and Happy 2006!