A will is a vital estate planning document, and allows you to distribute your assets and property according to your wishes. At a minimum everyone should have a will, even if you believe you do not have many assets. It is a common misconception that only rich people need estate plans. A will has a number of limitations you may not be aware of. However, there are several items that should NOT be included in a will:
Property held in a living trust or joint tenancy – property deeded to a living trust cannot be willed to someone else, and a will cannot change the right of survivorship in joint tenancy, which passes to the joint tenant by law. Don’t let the legalese scare you. Let an attorney help you ensure that any property you leave is handled in the way you want.
Accounts with designated beneficiaries – financial accounts and life insurance proceeds go to beneficiaries who are designated by you via a designated beneficiary form, and cannot be given to someone else through a will.
Contingency gifts – leaving assets that are contingent on the beneficiary performing a duty or act (like marrying or attending college) is not always legal. Generally speaking, you cannot “manage from the grave” by making an inheritance contingent on someone getting married, changing their religion, etc.
Provisions for those with special needs – this should be done via a special needs trust.
Provisions for pets – pets do not have the legal ability to own property, so consider establishing a pet trust to care for your pet(s). Did you know that you can leave money for the caretaker of your pet and of course choose who or what organization you would like to care for your pet.
Funeral instructions – since a will may not be read until after the funeral, leave instructions for your funeral arrangements in a letter of instruction or discuss your wishes with loved ones. It is also advisable to get funeral insurance. Save your loved ones from the hassle of chasing money immediately in the aftermath of your death.
Many of the items above can be addressed in a trust designed by your attorney. It also shows that “wills in a box” software many times will not ensure your wishes are abided by. If you’d like to learn more about establishing your personal estate plan, call an attorney today.
To Your Health, Wealth & Happiness,
Walter H. Bentley III