Destroy Old Documents

At document signing ceremonies, I am often asked “What should I do with my old will, power of attorney and other estate planning documents?”  My answer remains the same.  The old documents should be destroyed and you should do it right away.

Why the urgency?  If you don’t destroy them right away you may forget.  This forgotten will replaced by a newer will can turn the family upside down after a death.  While your new will should state explicitly that it replaces all previous wills, if the old will exists it can rear its head.  Leaving the old will intact allows for the argument that it is still valid.  Then the family ends up in probate court arguing over which will is the true will of the person who has passed.

A similar problem exists with copies.  You should collect all the copies you made of the previous will and destroy them as well.  In Texas, there is a process to submit a copy of will for probate.  This means, even if the original has been destroyed the copy can be submitted to the court for acceptance.

This problem can exist with any document intended to provide direction to others regarding your life or death.  So all originals and copies of wills, powers of attorney,trusts, appointment of guardian or any other document that is a part of your estate plan should be destroyed when updated by a new document.

Since these problems often arise when there is a change in the document that displaces a previous beneficiary or named decision maker.  One solution in addition to collecting all originals and copies for destruction, discuss the changes with everyone affected.  Explain the reason for the change and address any anger, resentment or hurt feelings a that time.  If you are unable to have this conversation consider leaving a letter with the document that explains the change.

Particularly with a change in a will those left behind think it is a reflection of how that person felt about his loved ones.  While this may be true, it is often just a recognition that a particular family member has a greater need or ability.  Since these cases can often lead to family rifts that are never repaired, a bit of planning can prevent destabilization of the family.  Prepare a letter or video for each of your loved ones sharing your feelings about them, hopes, dreams and happy memories.  Consider updating the letter or video every year or when there is a major change in your documentation or their lives.