There is no such thing as a “simple will”.
These were some of the first words said to me when I started estate planning. And so far, it turns out to be true. Just as there are many options for what you can do with a will, there are many pitfalls that can make a will unenforceable if not avoided.
What is a Will?
A will determines what will happen to your property after you die. It must be drafted and executed to very specific standards. Without a will, your property will be distributed according to the intestacy statutes, where strangers will determine who gets your property when you die. A well-crafted will can make sure that your desires are met for your estate.
Wills do 4 key things:
A will can do many things. But there are four key tasks that a well-crafted will should address:
1. Distribute Property
The will should designate who or what gets your property. It can direct property to a person outright, or be put in a trust for later distribution. It can also make gifts to charity. There are various kinds of gifts that can be made using wills. Making sure to use the right mechanism to give gifts is important to ensuring the will is not voided.
2. Designate Guardians for Minor Children
If you have minor children, determining who will raise your children if something happens to you is a vital part of an estate plan. Using a will and other estate planning tools (like trusts) can also plan for the financial security of your children. Do note that a will is only effective once you die. If you become incapacitated but are still alive, you'll need a guardianship directive to designate temporary guardians for your children.
3. Name a Personal Representative
A personal representative (a/k/a executor or administrator) manages and administers your estate after you die. This means they carry out your last wishes in your will, pay final debts, collect and appraise assets, calculate any tax burden, and distribute your remaining assets.
In many cases, you may not want money or assets to go directly to an heir all at once. This could be for tax reasons or to protect a loved one from creditors or from themselves. You may want a trust to ensure an inheritance for your children. In some situations, the law even requires that a trust hold certain property. There are many types of and uses for trusts; be sure to speak with experienced counsel to ensure that what needs to be done is done correctly.
You can change your will at any time if your family or financial situation changes. And you can also have provisions where your will adjusts automatically if certain things happen.
Wills require careful drafting
If your will is poorly drafted, then it may not have the result that you want. Assets may go to the wrong person; even to an ex-spouse if you're not careful. Also, wills must be approved by the Court in Probate. If the will doesn't meet the strict standards of the Court, then it may be deemed void. Even what may seem to be a minor ambiguity may invalidate part or all of the will. But if properly crafted and executed, a will is a powerful tool for managing your estate when you die.
At Signature Law, we strive to make sure that your will fulfills your final wishes in how you want your legacy to be. A carefully crafted will can make sure this happens. If you would like to discuss how a will can be the cornerstone of your estate, contact us for a free consultation.