Wills aren't the place to handle certain kinds of property or issues.
Wills are wonderful, simple, inexpensive ways to address many people's estate planning needs. But they can't do it all. Here are some things you shouldn't expect to accomplish in your will.
You can't use your will to leave:
Wills are typically not read -- or even found -- until days or weeks after a death. That's too late to be of help to the people who must make immediate decisions about the disposition of a body and funeral or memorial services. Instead, make a separate document spelling out your wishes, and tell your executor where to find it when the time comes.
If you expect your estate to owe federal estate taxes, you may want to take steps now to reduce the tax liability. A will won't help you avoid taxes. Many kinds of trusts can reduce or postpone the tax bill.
Property left through a will usually must spend several months or a year tied up in probate court before it can be distributed to the people who inherit it.
There are also a few legal limitations on what you can do in a will. For example, you cannot leave a gift that is contingent on the marriage, divorce, or change of religion of a recipient. You can, however, try to influence lesser matters. For example, you could leave money "to Jeremy, if and when he goes to college." Making such conditional gifts, however, usually opens a can of worms -- who will enforce the will's conditions, and for how long?
This one doesn't come up often, but you can't earmark money for something illegal, such as encouraging minors to smoke.
If you want to provide long-term care for someone, a will isn't the place. Far better to set up a trust that's tailored to the beneficiary's needs. See a lawyer who's an expert in the complicated laws that affect this situation.
Pets can't own property, so don't try to leave them any in your will. Instead, leave the animal to someone who has agreed to provide a good home -- and leave that person some money to help out with pet-related expenses. Some states allow you to set up trusts for animals, but that's probably not necessary if you have confidence in the person you've named to care for your pets after your death.
Cona Elder Law is a full service law firm based in Melville, LI. Our firm concentrates in the areas of elder law, estate planning, estate administration and litigation, special needs planning and health care facility representation. We are proud to have been recognized for our innovative strategies, creative techniques and unparalleled negotiating skills unendingly driven toward our paramount objective - satisfying the needs of our clients.
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