The U.S. Will Registry is helping Americans find Wills that may otherwise be lost forever

The death of the artist formerly known as Prince came as quite a shock to the country, but what is more shocking is the news that although his estate is worth approximately $250 million, no Will declaring the distribution of his assets can be found.

One can only guess why Prince didn’t leave a Will. Was a Will outside the scope of his religious beliefs? Maybe he hadn’t gotten around to estate planning or he drafted a Will but neglected to tell his family its location. Did his attorneys advise him to plan for the event of his death and he simply ignored their advice? It seems incredible to believe that such a large estate could be left unprotected. Whatever his reasoning was, one can’t help but wonder what will happen to Prince’s millions now. A large chunk of it will be needlessly wasted on legal fees and his family will be tied up in court trying to sort it all out. In fact, according to an article written by Danielle Anderson and Elaine Aradillas for People magazine on April 27, 2016, his sister had to file an emergency petition for the appointment of a special administrator, saying "I do not know of the existence of a Will and have no reason to believe that the Decedent executed testamentary documents in any form."

Attorneys can help minimize lost Wills and lack of estate planning

For attorneys who specialize in estate planning, seeing situations like Prince’s unfold is frustrating, to say the least. Although every American should have a sound estate plan, secrecy and lack of communication are the driving factors behind lost or non-existent Wills in the United States.

Families often assume a Will has been drawn up, when in fact it hasn’t. On top of such assumptions the topics of death and estate planning are almost fringe or taboo for families. In many cases children don’t ask their parents if they’ve made plans because they don’t want to seem rude, or materialistic. Parents often don’t share this information with their children because they feel it would cause family conflict or strife, or believe it’s simply not their business. What many Americans don’t understand is that having an open conversation about estate planning today can save a lot of headache, money and disagreements later. Remaining family members have been torn apart because of misunderstandings that take place after a loved one is gone – at a time when emotions run high.

Unfortunately, once a loved one passes misunderstandings or errors within the estate planning documents they’ve left aren’t easily resolved. One can only guess at what a loved one intended or meant by the Will they’ve left behind. However, if a parent or spouse can sit down with their family and explain the reasoning behind their decisions they are more likely to receive buy-in from all family members, will have a chance to settle misunderstandings, and an opportunity to identify and fix any potential errors that may otherwise go overlooked until it is too late. Sure, estate planning can lead to some tough conversations, but they are important conversations to have.

For many of these Americans, death is not a topic they want to consider and when one is healthy and active it’s true that death seems far off. In turn, the need to visit an attorney about estate planning doesn’t rank high on a to-do-list that is already full with pressing, daily tasks.

As attorneys, then, it becomes important to challenge the taboo associated with conversations about estate planning. A good place to start is by encouraging existing clients to ensure their estate planning is complete and up-to-date. As an essential aspect of caring for your client’s legal needs get into the habit of asking if estate planning is complete and up-to-date. When a client marries, has a child, divorces, re-marries or suffers the loss of a spouse or child, attorneys need to take the opportunity to remind them of the importance of updating their estate and educate them that Wills and other documents associated with their estate are actually documents that should be in flux – changed and adjusted to suit each life stage.

Is estate planning alone, enough, though? If your client plans their estate but no one in the family is aware that a Will, Trust or Will Substitutes (ie. Insurance Policy, Annuities) exists or where it is kept, then these plans are all for naught.

Have you discussed with your clients the importance of keeping their families apprised of where their Will is located? Unfortunately — 67% of Americans don’t know where a loved one’s Will is located. Of Americans with Wills, a high proportion don’t know where to store them, or haven’t told their executors where to find them. Not being able to find a Will when it’s needed can lead to financial turmoil and loss as well as a great deal of emotional stress for the deceased’s loved ones.

That’s why the U.S. Will Registry was formed. Backed by a group of private investors who are committed to ending the crisis and turmoil caused by lost Wills, the U.S. Will Registry offers a free service to store the location of a Will.

The registry does not store the Will itself, nor does it contain any of the contents of the Will; it only records the Will’s location. There is no fee to register or search for a missing Will through the U.S. Will Registry and it is the only freely-searchable database in the country that provides information on the location of a Will. This free service makes the U.S. Will Registry an invaluable resource for both attorneys and individuals.

How does Will registration work?

The U.S. Will Registry’s secure and comprehensive database identifies the contact information of the attorney who prepared the Will. This information is searchable by the name and birthdate of the individual who made the Will. The registry is user-friendly and easily accessible. The simple process by which the location of the Will is registered and a user locates the Will in the database can be completed in four simple steps:

 

Step 1 — With a release from the client, an attorney uploads a record of a Will in the database. (Again, the registry only identifies the location, it does NOT contain any of the contents of the Will.)

Step 2 — A loved one who is unaware of the location of a Will searches by name and birthdate of the deceased.

Step 3 — If a search is done for a Will and a match is found, then the person searching for the Will must provide identification and a death certificate to the registry before any information is released. Once proof of death is verified, the name of the attorney who prepared the Will is then provided.

 

Step 4 — If no match is found during a search, and the person looking for the Will provides a death certificate to the Registry, then the Registry will send an email containing the Testator's information (name and birthdate) to all registered attorneys with The U.S. Will Registry in the location of the deceased's last residence.

 

Ensure your client’s family can find their Will when they need it most. To register a Will, simply visit https://www.willsus.com/register-a-will. The lifetime registration of a Will remains confidential. Only when the necessary documentation is provided (i.e., death certificate) will the information be released.

Benefits for attorneys
The U.S. Will Registry provides attorneys with a safe, secure and easy way to register the existence and location of Wills, free of charge.

As an attorney, having your clients' Wills and your contact information entered in the registry will allow you to help make sure your clients’ wishes are fulfilled. Will registration is an excellent opportunity to invite your client’s loved ones back into the office to meet them and ensure they have your information when it comes time to handle the probate matters associated with the Will you have prepared.

In addition to providing a free registration and profile page for attorneys, The U.S. Will Registry offers attorneys:

  • Unlimited client registrations
  • A database of lost Wills to connect family members with the attorney who prepared the Will
  • A "Find an Attorney" directory for those in need of an estate planning attorney to write/review a Will or Trust.

Attorneys can visit http://www.willsus.com/register-your-firm to join the U.S. Will Registry. 

 

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