A last will and testament is a straightforward estate planning tool, used to determine the beneficiaries of your assets when you die, and, if you have minor children, nominating a guardian who will raise your children. Wills can be very specific but can’t enforce all of your wishes and the attorneys at Beck & Lenox Estate Planning & Elder Law, LLC, often counsel clients on what not to include in a will. For example, if you want to leave your niece your car, but only if she uses it to attend college classes, there won’t be a way to enforce those terms in a will, says the article “Things you should never put in your will” from MSN Money.
If you have certain terms you want met by beneficiaries, your best bet is to use a trust, where you can state the terms under which your beneficiaries will receive distributions or assets.
Leaving things out of your will can actually benefit your heirs, because in most cases, they will get their inheritance faster. Here’s why: when you die, your will must be validated in a court of law before any property is distributed. The process, called probate, takes a certain amount of time, and if there are issues, it might be delayed. If someone challenges the will, it can take even longer.
However, property that is in a trust or in payable-on-death (POD) titled accounts pass directly to your beneficiaries outside of a will.
Another example of what not to include in a will is any property or assets that you don’t own outright. If you own any property jointly, upon your death the other owner will become the sole owner. This is usually done by married couples in community property states.
A trust may be the solution for more control. When you put assets in a trust, the title is held by the trust. Property that is titled as owned by the trust becomes subject to the rules of the trust and is completely separate from the will. Since the trust operates independently, it is very important to make sure the property you want to be held by the trust is titled properly and to not include anything in your will that is owned by the trust.
Certain assets are paid out to beneficiaries because they feature a beneficiary designation. They also should not be mentioned in the will. You should check to ensure that your beneficiary designations are up to date every few years, so the right people will own these assets upon your death.
Here are a few accounts that are typically passed through beneficiary designations:
- Bank accounts
- Investments and brokerage accounts
- Life insurance polices
- Retirement accounts and pension plans.
Another way to pass property outside of the will, is to own it jointly. If you and a sibling co-own stocks in a jointly owned brokerage account and you die, your sibling will continue to own the account and its investments. This is known as joint tenancy with rights of survivorship.
Business interests can pass through a will, but that is not your best option. An estate planning attorney can help you create a succession plan that will take the business out of your personal estate and create a far more efficient way to pass the business along to family members, if that is your intent. If a partner or other owners will be taking on your share of the business after death, an estate planning attorney can be instrumental in creating that plan.
Funeral instructions don’t belong in a will. Family members may not get to see that information until long after the funeral. You may want to create a letter of instruction, a less formal document that can be used to relay these details.
Your account numbers, including passwords and usernames for online accounts, do not belong in a will. Remember a will becomes a public document, so anything you don’t want the general public to know after you have passed should not be in your will. Contact Beck & Lenox for help in creating the legal documents appropriate for your needs, including what not to include in a will.
Reference: MSN Money (Dec. 8, 2020) “Things you should never put in your will”