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Practical Steps to Take Before Death

What can I do to make the transfer of property at my death easier for my family and friends?

If you do not do anything to plan for your death, it can be hard for family and friends to guess at your wishes, identify your property and struggle through the probate process. Below are things you can do to make the process easier for others:

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Should I see an estate planning lawyer?

Yes. It is a good idea to see an estate planning lawyer to help you plan how your property passes at your death. A lawyer can help you decide between a Will or a trust, make sure that the document is valid under Alaska law and prepare a document that follows your wishes. A properly prepared Will or trust can avoid long and costly battles over your estate and minor children, save your relatives heartache and accomplish what you wanted in the first place.

For information on how to find an estate planning lawyer, see Probate Resources.

You can learn more about Estate Planning Tools.

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Why should I make a Will or a trust?

A Will or a trust allows you to make decisions about things that happen after your death, such as who collects and manages your property, who receives your property and how a person receives your property. A Will also allows you to decide who will take care of your minor children. Without a Will or a trust, the state of Alaska or a court will make these decisions for you in a way that may not be what you wanted.

For more information, see Wills and Trusts.

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What should I do if I own Native (ANCSA) Stock?

If you own Native corporation stock created under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), you should complete the "stock will" by filling in the blanks on the back of your stock certificate. This is the simplest and most certain way to make sure that the stock passes to the persons who you want to receive it when you die. Many Native corporations also have separate testamentary forms that can be used in addition to the back of the original stock certificate. If you have questions about how to fill out the stock will or whether there is a separate testamentary form, the Native corporation which issued the stock will help you.

For more information, see the section on transferring Native stock.

You can watch a short presentation on Special Procedures for Native Estates.

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What should I do if I own "restricted property" (Native allotments and townsite lots)?

It is important to have a properly drafted Will if you own restricted property. Restricted property is real property granted to Native Alaskans by the Secretary of the Interior as either Native allotments or townsite lots. The property can only be transferred with the approval of the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs ("BIA").

All restricted property must pass through a special BIA probate process, handled by a federal law judge. The property does not pass through the Alaska probate court. The judge must decide whether a Will is valid or not. Some requirements include:

If your Will does not meet all of these requirements, the restricted property will pass to your heirs under Alaska intestacy laws instead of under your Will. If you have questions about how to make a BIA Will, the realty department of your regional non-profit Native corporation may be able to answer them, or the Native corporation of which you are a shareholder can often help you. Sometimes the Native corporation will even prepare a BIA Will for you. Once you have a Will, you may submit it to the Secretary of the Interior for approval before you die.

For more information, see the section on transferring restricted property.

You can watch a short presentation on Special Procedures for Native Estates.

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What should I do if I own a fishing permit?

Many commercial fisheries in the State of Alaska require a special "limited entry" permit in order to participate. Some of these permits can be quite valuable. Prices are set according to the free market. A limited entry fishing permit can only be left to one person. The law will not allow the permit to be divided among your spouse and children. If you do not mention the permit in your Will, or if you have no Will, the permit will go to your spouse. If you have no spouse, the permit will probably need to be sold unless you only have one heir or, if you have more than one heir, all of the heirs agree who should get the permit. Consequently, it is very important that you have a section in your Will naming the person who is to receive your fishing permit. You can also fill out a form called Designation of Permit Recipient Upon Permit Holder's Death PDF .

Learn more about limited entry fishing permits and estates PDF . The Alaska Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission has different forms that deal with estate issues.

The federal government also has a limited entry program for fisheries conducted in federal waters. These "permits" are called Individual Fishing Quotas (IFQs). These are valuable property interests which can also be distributed pursuant to a Will. Quota share holders may provide the National Marine Fisheries Service with the name of a designated beneficiary to receive survivorship transfer privileges in the event of the quota share holder’s death. See the QS/IFQ Beneficiary Designation.

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What arrangements should I make if I have a minor child?

There are several important things to consider when a person dies and leaves a child under the age of 18. If both parents have died and the child has no Guardian, the child will need a permanent Guardian with whom to live. If the child inherits money from the parent who died, someone must accept and manage the money for the child. If you have a minor child, you should have an estate planning lawyer help you decide how to pass property to your child and how to name a Guardian.

For more information, see Surviving Minor Children.

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What information should I prepare about my property?

When a person dies, it is often hard for family members or friends to identify the property that the person owned and gather information about the person's financial situation. It is helpful if you make a document that lists information about the following topics:

Your property, including:

For each item of property, you should also list the following (if appropriate):

Your debts, loans and liens, including:

Where your important documents are located, including:

Your financial advisers, including:

Your electronic information, including:

You should update your lists from time to time. You should also tell someone or leave a note where your lists can be found. These lists are for information only and are usually not part of your Will or trust.

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What should I review about the title to my property?

You should review how your property is owned and whether you have named someone to receive any of your property automatically when you die. Property that must pass through probate before it can be transferred to another person is called probate property. This usually includes property that you own in your name only, such as a house, vehicle or bank account. Property which passes automatically to someone else when a person dies is called nonprobate property. This usually includes property you hold with someone else or where you have named someone to automatically receive the property. Common examples include a bank account, life insurance benefits, retirement benefits, or real property when you have recorded a Transfer on Death deed.

A person who inherits nonprobate property receives the property in addition to any probate property passing under your Will or through intestacy. You should make sure that this is what you want. You should consider the potential consequences of owning  valuable property with a minor child and naming a minor child as a beneficiary to receive property automatically at your death. If a minor child inherits property in his or her own name, you will not have any control over who manages the property and how the property is used while the child is under 18. When the child turns 18, he or she will receive the remaining property all at once to use any way he or she sees fit. If you want to leave property to a minor, you should talk to an estate planning lawyer. For more information, see Surviving Minor Children.

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What should I do about funeral arrangements or a memorial service?

You should consider whether you want to be buried or cremated, what you would like to happen to your remains (for example buried at your hometown cemetery or your ashes scattered over the ocean), and what type of memorial service you would prefer. Your wishes can be as simple or as detailed as you choose. The more you explain what is important to you, the more likely it is that family members will follow your wishes at your death. You should tell your family members about your preferences or include a written statement along with your Will or other important papers describing your wishes. If you have no preference, it is also important for your family members to know this so that they can do what is easiest and most economical under the circumstances.

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What should I do with my documents to keep them safe?

It is important to safeguard your important documents, especially your original Will. If you lose your Will, your Personal Representative might not be able to probate a copy. In that case, your property will pass as if you had never even made a Will.

You should consider doing one of the following things with your original Will:

You should keep other documents in a safe location that can be easily found at your death. This might include a fireproof safe, the freezer or a safe deposit box. You should never store your Will or any document relating to funeral wishes in a safe deposit box because a court order will be needed to drill the box open before probate if no one has joint access to the box at the time of your death.

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Should I complete an Advance Health Care Directive and Living Will?

It is a good idea to think carefully about what you want to happen about your own health care in the event that you cannot make your wishes know to your doctor. For information about Advance Health Care directives and Living Wills, please see Alaska Legal Services Corporation's Advance Health Care Directive forms and instructions (Word Document).

You can watch short presentations about Advance Health Care Directives and Living Wills:

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Rev. 18 December 2017
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