Drafting a will is always a smart idea. It serves many purposes, including designating where assets go, the guardian of young children and other vital details. There are, however, some crucial assets, details and arrangements that should not go into a will.
These can’t go in
Some of these will likely be a surprise:
- Life insurance: The policy’s proceeds go directly to the beneficiary listed on the policy (make sure to update these to reflect divorce or remarriage).
- Joint tenancy property: The surviving co-owner of a joint tenancy property will automatically receive the deceased original owner’s share of the property under the right of survivorship. A will does not affect this arrangement.
- Retirement accounts: Money from IRAs, 401(k)s and pensions go to the listed beneficiary.
- Stocks and bonds: There also is a stated beneficiary for these.
What should not go in
The details of each estate are unique to the person drafting the arrangements (decedent):
- Funeral arrangements: Unlike the movies, the wills are often read long after the funeral, so any funeral instructions should be put in a safe place that people making the arrangements will know about.
- Taxation avoidance: Estate taxes are a thing of the past unless the will is issuing several million dollars per person. If this is the case, a trust might make more sense.
- Certain conditions: The deceased can’t place unlawful or discriminatory conditions on beneficiaries. Examples include converting religions, marrying someone of the same faith or marrying someone of the opposite sex. This also adds unnecessary complexity that the executor is obliged to sort out.
- Special needs: Special arrangements for those unable to care for themselves are often best handled by a special needs trust specifically designed for this job.
Getting knowledgeable guidance is essential
Even an attorney practicing another field of law will find it challenging to draft a legal and binding will, so the average layperson serves their’s and their family’s best interests if they work with an attorney specializing in this area of law. This can avoid leaving an expensive mess for surviving family members to clean up as they try to determine your intent in drafting one or more wills.