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Frequent Asked Questions

What is an estate plan?
Estate planning is a process involving the counsel of professional advisors who are familiar with your goals and concerns, your assets and how they are owned, and your family structure. Estate planning covers the transfer of property at death as well as a variety of other personal matters and may or may not involve tax planning. The core document most often associated with this process is your will.

What is a will?
A will provides for the distribution of property owned by you at the time of your death. Aside from providing for the intended disposition of your property to spouse, children etc., there are a number of other important objectives that may be accomplished in your will.

  • You may designate a guardian for your minor child or children if you have survived the other parent.
  • You may designate an executor of your estate in your will.
  • You may choose to acknowledge or otherwise provide for a child (e.g., stepchild, godchild, etc.) in whom you have an interest, an elderly parent, or other individuals.

Good planning can also enhance your support of religious, educational, and other charitable causes.

Why should I make a will?
A will is a useful tool that provides you with the ability to control how your estate will be divided.  If you die without a will, Minnesota's inheritance laws will control how your estate will be divided. Your property will go to your closest relatives. If you have a spouse and children, the property will go to them by a set formula. If not, the property will descend in the following order: grandchildren, parents, brothers and sisters, or more distant relatives if there are no closer ones.

Are all of my assets controlled by my will when I die?
No.  For example, if you designate a beneficiary(ies) in your life insurance policy, that person will receive the benefit without it passing through your Will.  If, however, you have life insurance policies where you have not designated a beneficiary or where you name your estate as the beneficiary, the proceeds of that policy will pass through your will when you die.  The same principle applies to IRAs, retirement plans, annuities, and 401(k) plans.  You should check with your provider every one to two years to make sure the beneficiary designations are correct and current. 

What is the difference between a will and a trust?
A will is a way for you to express how you want your assets distributed upon death.  In your will, you may nominate a person to serve as Personal Representative, nominate a guardian for your minor children to serve if the children’s other parent is deceased.
A trust is a contract between you, as the trustor, and a trustee.  The trustor is the person that creates the trust; the trustee manages the trust.  The beneficiary of a revocable trust is often 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.

Your estate (for wills for Heroes purposes) consists of your cash, personal property, stocks and bonds, real estate (equity only), savings, life insurance, and retirement assets (such as a 401(K) or an IRA).  If you have a large (greater than $500,000) or complicated estate or desire complex trust arrangements, this program is not available to you.  You should instead contact a lawyer who focuses in the area of wills and trusts.  In such a case, WFH clinic staff will be happy to give you a referral to an estate planning attorney in your county.

Wills for Heroes does not handle the following areas/issues: 1) estate, gift, income and/or Generation Skipping Transfer tax issues; 2) special needs trusts; 3) charitable trusts; 4) citizenship/domicile of first responder and/or spouse; 5) assets managed by a fiduciary outside of the U.S.; 6) assets held outside of the U.S; 7) short term and/or long term care planning; 8) immigration issues; and 9) any litigation matter.  The program also does not handle complicated or intricate planned distributions outside of the Estate Planning Questionnaire options.

What is Probate?
Probate is the legal process of settling your estate in court after you die. Your property is gathered and inventoried, your debts are paid, and everything left over is divided among your heirs. Your personal representative is responsible for "probating" your will. If you have no will or did not name a personal representative, the court will appoint one for you.

Probating a will begins by filing an application with the probate court. Probate ends when all debts and taxes are paid and all assets are distributed. If there is disagreement over your will, a probate judge will resolve the differences. Probate laws in Minnesota apply to the estates of people who were residents of Minnesota at the time of their death. Probate also applies to other states' residents who own real property in Minnesota.

Having a will does not avoid probate. Some kinds of property and assets do not need to be probated. These include property owned as joint tenants, jointly held bank accounts, payable-on-death accounts, life insurance proceeds to a specific beneficiary, and pension benefits with a designated beneficiary in the event you die.

Do I need to be present to have my will prepared?
Yes. You must be present to express your wishes and sign your estate planning documents.

Where do I keep a will?
Your will should be kept in a safe place. The original will should be placed where it can easily be found after your death. Make sure your personal representative, a close friend or relative knows where to find it and can access it, particularly if you are considering a safe deposit box.

In Minnesota, the probate court or court administrator's office will accept wills for safekeeping at no charge or for a nominal fee. You have the right to get your will back at any time.

Is Wills for Heroes really free?
Yes.  In an effort to show our appreciation for the daily sacrifices of fire fighters, police officers and other first responders, this free program is brought to you by the Minnesota State Bar Association.  The Wills for Heroes program offers wills, Health Care Directives and Financial Powers of Attorney to Minnesota’s first responders and their spouses at no charge.

How do I make an appointment?
If you are an eligible First Responder and want to sign up for an upcoming clinic, please review the clinic schedule to see if there is an upcoming clinic at your place of employment. If so, contact your employer directly to schedule an appointment. If not, contact your employer and ask them to contact us to schedule an on-site clinic.

Do my spouse and I share the same appointment?
You and your spouse will have separate appointments with different attorneys to avoid potential conflicts of interest.  Each spouse must fill out and bring with him/her a separate estate planning questionnaire, even though the questionnaires may be similar to the other.  Please bring your completed questionnaire with you along with a government-issued form of identification.

What do I need to bring to my Wills for Heroes appointment?
You must bring your completed estate planning questionnaire and a form of government issued personal identification.

What will happen at my Wills for Heroes appointment?
With laptops and a portable printer, a group of volunteer attorneys will arrive at the location (police station, fire station, etc.) and work with each First Responder to discuss his/her matter in a confidential manner. The participant will sit with an attorney to review their completed questionnaire. Simultaneously, a paralegal, law student, or other support staff member will sit next to the attorney and enter the information into the laptop. Once the questionnaire has been reviewed and the process explained, the Will, Power of Attorney and Health Care Directive will be generated. The attorney will review the entire document with the participant to ensure they fully understand what they are executing. After the document is explained, and any corrections made, the Will, Power of Attorney, and Health Care Directive will be executed and notarized. The goal is to complete the entire process in one meeting.

How long will it take to finish my will?
From start to finish, it usually takes approximately one hour to complete your will and other estate planning documents.

What if I want to change my will after it is done?
You may want to update or change your will if:

  • Your marital status changes;
  • A child or grandchild is born;
  • There is a death in the family;
  • You move to a new state;
  • The value and kind of property you own changes substantially;
  • Your personal representative moves away or dies; or
  • Tax laws change. (You generally need to worry about tax laws only if your estate exceeds $1,000,000.)

Wills can be changed either by writing and executing a new one or by adding a "codicil," which is an amendment to a will. The codicil must be written, signed and witnessed the same way as the will, and should be kept with the original will.

Do not try to change your will by simply crossing out language or writing in new provisions. Crossing out language raises the question of whether you intended to revoke your whole will or just a part of it. Writing new provisions will be ineffective unless the provisions are signed by you and two witnesses.

We strongly recommend you consult with an experienced estate planning attorney before making any changes.