If you want to ensure that your final wishes are carried out, it is essential to create a will—a document with instructions on how your estate should be handled in the event of your death.
From naming guardians for your children to leaving certain types of property to your family members, wills can perform a variety of tasks vital to distributing and protecting assets.
But wills can’t do everything. When planning your estate, it’s imperative that you understand the limitations of your last will and testament so you can plan accordingly. Below, you’ll find a list of some of the most important limitations to consider.
Wills can’t place conditions on gifts. If you plan on leaving behind a wedding gift for your child when he or she marries, you may be out of luck. You are not legally allowed to leave a gift that is dependent on the marriage, divorce, or religion of the beneficiary. Leaving gifts contingent on other terms—such as relocation or school enrollment—can be tricky as well, as it’s often difficult to ensure such conditions are carried out.
Wills can’t leave money to pets. While pet-lovers might be tempted to leave a little something behind to their loyal companion, it is inadvisable to do so. Pets can’t legally own property, and most states won’t allow you to set up trusts for animals. If you want to provide for your pet, consider leaving the person you have chosen to take over guardianship with money for pet food, vet visits, and other care costs.
Wills often can’t provide funeral instructions. When someone passes, successors usually have to decide how to dispose of the body and hold funeral services straightaway. In the turmoil of mourning and making final arrangements, wills are sometimes not read for weeks. If you want to make specific funeral arrangements, you should map out your wishes for your executor in a separate document.
Wills can’t arrange for long-term care. Typically, wills cannot organize adequate or long-term care for someone with special needs or disabilities. If you want to ensure a beneficiary with special needs is provided for, you’re better off creating a special needs trust.
Wills can’t distribute jointly owned property. Some types of personal property—such as bank accounts, land, and houses—can be owned jointly. If the joint owners hold a “right of survivorship,” the survivor automatically becomes the sole owner when the other dies.
Wills can’t protect your assets from probate. It can take years for a property to go through the costly and expensive probate process, barring your heirs from access in the meantime. There are other methods of protecting your assets from probate, however, such as writing a trust or naming beneficiaries on your accounts.
Wills can’t reduce estate taxes. If your assets exceed the federal estate tax exemption, a portion of the assets you leave behind to your heirs will be taken by the government. While wills cannot protect your property from taxes, some types of trusts can.
Every adult should have a strong and comprehensive distribution plan for their assets in the event of their death. Wills alone do not always provide adequate protection for your estate. If you are going through the complex and often emotional process of planning your estate, contact an experienced lawyer. A skilled estate planning attorney can help you draft the most effective will possible and guide you through the steps you can take to further protect your assets.
About the Author:
Christopher Q. Wintter is the founder of Wintter & Associates, P.A. and a board-certified expert in Trust and Estate matters by the Florida Bar. With more than 24 years’ experience as a practicing attorney, he also serves as an instructor and faculty member for the National Institute of Trial Advocacy (NITA)—the nation’s leading provider of legal advocacy skills training to practicing attorneys—and has earned the AV® Preeminent™ rating with LexisNexis Martindale Hubbell. He was also selected for inclusion in Florida Super Lawyers for 2011 and 2012 in Estate and Trust Litigation.