FAQs for First Responders

Is Wills For Heroes really free?
Absolutely.  In fact, attorney volunteers are specifically instructed not to solicit your business.  Also, because we do not keep your personal information, we have no way of getting back in touch with you once your Will is completed.

What is an Estate Plan?
An Estate Plan has a lasting effect on you and your family.  What you do now affects what they may have after you die and who can make decisions for you if you are unable to make your own decisions.  Your plan may include one or more of these:  Will; Advance Medical Directive (“Living Will”); and Durable Power Of Attorney for Health Care.  You must plan carefully and that requires you think about your situation, family, and desires.  Do so now while you have the time to reflect.

Please make sure you also review any beneficiary designations on life insurance, retirement plans, annuities and IRAs to make sure they are correct and up to date.  Look at them at least every two-three years.  If you die with a spouse and child but forgot to change your beneficiary designations that named your parent or former partner – the fact that you married and have a child does not change the distribution of those assets.  The asset will go to the person named – the parent or former partner – instead of those you would now name.

What is a Will?
A Will is a legal document that states your desires concerning what will happen to your assets after your death.  A Will also contains other specific directions from you concerning who is to implement your instructions and, perhaps, who will care for any minor or disabled children you may leave behind.  A Will is especially important for parents with young children.  You should name a guardian (and preferably a successor) for your children in case the other parent also dies while a child is a minor.

A Will is simply a way for you to express how you want assets distributed upon death, nominate a person to serve as Personal Representative, nominate a guardian for your minor children to serve if the children’s other parent is dead, and state marital status and list the children, if any.

A Trust is a contract between yourself as Trustor and yourself as Trustee.  The Trustor is the person that creates the trust; the Trustee manages the trust.  The beneficiary of a revocable trust is typically the Trustor during the Trustor’s lifetime.  A trust can include more detail about your goals in case you become disabled and how you want your beneficiaries to receive your assets upon your death (in trust, outright, or over a certain term).  This is especially important for planning for children with disabilities, for children that cannot handle money and for children that you want protected from creditors and failed marriages.  A revocable trust typically becomes irrevocable at the death of the Trustor.  There are also irrevocable trusts and other advanced estate planning that can be done.

Many goals can be met using either a trust or Will.  You should consult with an estate planning attorney about whether a trust is appropriate for your situation.  Signing a Will through this program puts your current goals in writing.  If necessary, you can always modify your Will later.

Why should I make a Will?
If you die without a valid Will, the laws of your state of legal residence (domicile) determine what happens to your assets.  Your wishes will not be considered and therefore your assets may not go where you want them to go.  In Arizona if you have a spouse and children from a former relationship, your children receive all of your community property and your separate property, if any, is divided half to your spouse and half to your children.  If you and your spouse own your house as community property, but without right of survivorship, your spouse keeps his/her one-half and your children would own the other half.

Are all of my assets controlled by my Will when I die? 
No.  For example, proceeds of life insurance policies and retirement plan assets are distributed as you direct in a beneficiary designation form.  A bank account that you own jointly with another person will presumptively go to the other joint owner.  It is extremely important that you coordinate the disposition of these assets with the disposition of the assets of your estate, as provided for in your Will.

What is Probate? 
Probate is a court procedure by which a Will is proved to be valid or invalid.  The probate process accomplishes the transfer of your assets from your name to your beneficiaries under your Will.

A Will does not avoid probate.  With a probate, the Will, if any, is submitted to the Court with paperwork asking for a Personal Representative (PR) to be appointed.  Upon appointment, the PR collects the assets; notifies heirs and creditors; pays administrative expenses; pays statutory allowances, if applicable; pays any taxes; pays any creditors in a priority set in Arizona statutes; and distributes the remaining assets, if any, to the beneficiaries.

Probate only includes assets in your own name alone without a beneficiary designation.  If there are not enough assets in your probate estate, non-probate assets may be brought back in to pay expenses (see Arizona statutes for details).

A Will does not have to go through the probate process - just a Will where a probate is opened.  Probate may not need to be opened if all assets pass by beneficiary designation.  A small estate affidavit can be used to collect cars and personal property if the estate is under $50,000.  Real estate can be transferred after 6 months by affidavit if real estate equity is under $50,000.

There are expenses to probate that people do not like to pay (attorneys fees, court costs, PR fees) and time – it usually takes one to two years to handle a probate and assets can be tied up for that time period.

Do I need to be present to have my Will prepared?
Yes.  We cannot determine your goals and wishes unless you are present.

Why can’t my spouse / partner and I have one appointment and see the same attorney at the same time?
We do not want you to feel we jointly represent you and your spouse/partner.  You may have issues or concerns that you do not want to share with your spouse/partner.  Even if you want to meet together, we have set a clear rule that you cannot meet with the same attorney at the same time.

What if some of the answers on my questionnaire are different than my spouse / partner’s answers?
That may happen, as you and your spouse/partner may have different beliefs and goals.  You can discuss your answers with your spouse/partner before or during your appointment.  Your planning is drafted to meet your goals and concerns and not how your spouse/partner feels you should plan.

Do I need to bring anything with me to the Wills Day?
Yes.  You need to bring your estate planning questionnaire, filled out to the best of your abilities.  If you are going to do a specific bequest of any real estate, please bring the deed of trust or some other document showing the legal description of the real property.  Also bring government identification with your picture on it because you will be signing your Will in a formal ceremony with a Notary.

What is a Living Will?
An advance medical directive or “living will” is separate from your Will, but may be an important part of your estate plan.  It states that in the event you have a terminal, incurable medical condition and your life is only being prolonged by means of artificially provided life support, and if you cannot communicate your desires, the living will “speaks for you” so your doctors know and can act upon, your desires about medical life support.  Once executed, the document is effective until you revoked it, which you may do at any time by physically destroying it or revoking it.

What is a Health Care Power of Attorney?
A Health Care Power of Attorney permits you to name another person or persons who will have the power to make health care decisions for you if you are not able to do so for yourself.

Do I need to give my Health Care Power of Attorney to anyone?
Yes – make sure your doctor has a copy of it.  You may also want to keep a copy with you when you travel.  Make sure your agents know where to find it in case of emergency. 

How does a Health Care Power of Attorney differ from a Living Will?
The Health Care Power of Attorney appoints someone you name to make medical care decisions for you if you cannot make your own medical decisions.  It applies to more situations than the living will, which was discussed above.  The Health Care Power of Attorney gives the person you name as your agent the authority to make a wide range of medical decisions on your behalf.  Your agent, once you are unable to communicate you wishes, is given the power to act on your behalf to make health and mental health decisions (outside of a locked facility)  It also gives your agent access to your medical information and authority to fully participate with your treating physicians in deciding the care you receive.

How long will it take to finish my Will?
Our experience is that it usually takes approximately one hour from start to finish to complete your Will and other estate planning documents.

What if I want to change my Will after it is done?
You can change your Will or any other estate planning document Wills for Heroes provides at any time.  Unless your department is planning another Wills Day, we stongly recommend that you consult with an experienced estate planning attorney before making any changes.

Never write on the legal document once it has been signed.  If someone’s address changes or an agent dies, do not cross out the incorrect language.  The language was correct at the time of signing.  For address changes, place a page with the correct contact information in the same area as your POA and hand it out to your doctor.  If an agent has died, place a certified copy of the death certificate next to your POA, so that the successor agent(s) can act when needed.

You should consider changes to your Will or other estate planning documents whenever you have a ‘life event’ – for example, a birth, death, marriage, or divorce in your family or in the family of anyone that you have named or included in your estate planning documents.

What is a specific bequest?
A specific bequest is a statement in the Will that a certain asset or specific amount of money is given to beneficiary(ies).  You may make specific gifts of cash, real estate, or tangible personal property to specific people or charities in your Will.  However, these bequests will be distributed first and may deplete your estate. Also, specific bequests lapse if the property given cannot be found at your death. Therefore, if you make specific bequests, only give property or amounts of cash that you are reasonably sure you will have when you die.  If you make no specific bequests, all of your property will pass to your primary beneficiaries, or what we call residuary beneficiaries.

Do I have to decide what specific bequests to make right now?
Yes – if you want to include any in this Will and know your wishes are not likely to change within the next few years.  You can always do a codicil to your Will that adds a specific bequest.  For tangible personal property, you can fill out a personal property memorandum – list who you wish to receive an item, describe the item in writing, sign and date the page, indicate that it is a personal property memorandum or list of items to be distributed under your Will at death.

Who should receive a copy of my estate planning documents?
You decide based on what feels comfortable for you.  Sometimes people give copies to the agent or PR named in the document or to children.  Other times people do not want to let anyone know the contents in case they change their mind about the distribution or agents/PR.  Make sure someone knows where to find your documents.  If you are leaving them in a safe deposit box, make sure it can be accessed at your death to retrieve the contents of the box.

What happens if I have a problem and my agent knows I would not want a certain treatment?
The agent should show the original power of attorney (or at least a copy – bring with your or have faxed in) to the doctor or emergency medical technician to show the agent has authority to act.  If you are unable to communicate, then your agent can express your wishes.  Make sure your agent can be a strong advocate for your behalf, if necessary.

Does my Will still apply if I move out of Arizona?
Yes.  A Will validly executed here is honored in other states.  The challenge is when another state wants an affidavit from the witnesses who watched the Will being signed and they can no longer be found.  It is best to prepare a Will and powers of attorney when you move to another state.

What about Organ Donation?
Great idea to put your wishes down in writing – whether you are for, against or have not decided.  This program does not have a form for you decide about organ donation at this time.

Are dispatchers eligible for Wills for Heroes?
We realize how important dispatch and other support personnel are to the everyday operations of first responder organizations; unfortunately, we do not have the resources to cover all of these folks.  With approximately 100,000 eligible local, town, city, county, state, tribal and federal first responders (including spouses or partners) across Arizona, those who are most at risk are the priority for our volunteer resources.

What if my estate exceeds the $750,000 cap for this program?
We encourage you to still avail yourself of the other free services that Wills for Heroes offers – a Living Will, Health Care Power of Attorney, and (coming soon) a Financial Power of Attorney.  We are also in the process of forming a reduced-fee panel of estate planning attorneys that you can contact for an estate plan at your convenience.  Please go ahead and do your planning now; unfortunately, we can never know when it will be too late.

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