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Headed South for the winter? Your estate plan may need some attention

by ROBERT J. GREEN/Kootenai Law Group
| September 13, 2023 1:00 AM

Many of our clients in North Idaho and Eastern Washington are “snowbirds” who spend winters somewhere warm. Often this means a person owns assets in more than one state. If this is true for you, then you need to pay special attention to certain decisions in your estate planning documents such as Wills, Trusts, Powers of Attorney, and Advanced Medical Directives. If you are headed somewhere warm to spend the winter months, you will want to be sure you have everything in order before you go. So, now is the opportune moment to tidy things up, not the week before you leave town.

If you reside in multiple states depending on the time of year, or even if you just own assets such as real estate in more than one state, your estate planning documents and overall estate planning strategy need to account for this. Prior to meeting with me, many of my clients who own real property in multiple states had no idea that a probate (court-controlled estate administration) of their estate would be necessary in every state where they own real property. Even if you do not mind the idea of your estate being administered through a formal court-controlled process, you probably don’t want your heirs to have to go through that process multiple times in multiple states! With proper estate planning, that result can be avoided.

Another issue that comes up for snowbirds has to do with their Power of Attorney documentation, and which state those documents should come from, and consequently, which state’s laws should govern the use of those Power of Attorney documents. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to these issues and understanding the pros and cons of the various options is important. Be sure to discuss this topic with your estate planning attorney and do not assume you have it set up the way you want or need it.

A final thought for winter travelers: when you leave your home base for any extended period of time, you should have with you copies of your important legal documents. This should include copies of your Financial Power of Attorney and Health Care Power of Attorney documents, your Last Will and Testament and Living Trust (if you have one of those), as well as your Living Will, and a Physician’s Orders for Scope of Treatment Form — sometimes known as a “do not resuscitate” document). Photocopies of these documents are sufficient for almost any purpose as long as the originals can be located and obtained if necessary.

In general, I suggest having original estate planning documents in a safe and secure location like a fireproof safe or a safe deposit box (to which at least one trusted person other than you has access), or at your attorney’s office. A photocopy set of the same documents can be kept more readily accessible but should still be safe and private. As stated above, if you are traveling across the country, a photocopy set should come with you.

If you have any doubts about whether you have all the documents you need before heading for a warmer climate this winter, do not hesitate to speak to a qualified estate planning attorney. Some law firms, like mine, will even offer free consultations concerning creating or reviewing estate planning documents. Take the time to be sure your planning will result in your desired outcome.

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Robert J. Green is an Elder Law, Estate & Business Planning Attorney and the owner of Kootenai Law Group, PLLC in Coeur d’Alene. If you have questions about estate planning, probates, wills, trusts, powers of attorney, guardianships, Medicaid planning, or business planning, contact Robert at 208-765-6555, Info@KootenaiLaw.com, or visit www.KootenaiLaw.com.

This has been presented as general information and not as legal advice. Do not engage in legal decision-making without the advice of a competent attorney after discussion of your specific circumstances.