Is a simple will right for your family?
I am often asked about preparing a simple will for people. I have been doing estate planning for about twenty years and have literally prepared hundreds of documents for clients. In all those families, I have come across very few truly simple situations, but I still find that most people think their situation is simple, even if it is fairly complicated. Why is this? How do you know whether a simple will is right for your family?
I think clients are unaware of complications mainly because they don’t know that some ideas are pretty difficult to put on paper. For example, if the parents have “loaned” one child a significant amount of money over the years, they may want to even up things after they are both gone. This can be done, but not simply. The details have to be ironed out: how much of a reduction is there for the debtor child? What if he/she repays the loan? Is interest to be added on the amount? If the debtor child dies before the parents and he/she has children, will they get the reduced share?
These types of ideas make it difficult to draft the wills and can’t really be done in a simple form. Uneven shares (for various reasons) are one common thing clients ask for. Others are paying out the shares over several years and giving large gifts to charities or grandchildren instead of the children. These can also be done, but not in a simple will.
Some situations call for specific language in wills or trusts to meet the needs of the family. An example was when a couple contacted me about planning. They had 3 adult children and they wanted to leave everything to them equally. After speaking with them, however, two of the children were disabled. One was severely disabled, living in a facility and on Medicaid. Another was somewhat disabled, but working. She was not receiving Medicaid but, due to her medical condition would one day not be able to work. At that point, she would likely be eligible for Social Security disability, based on her own work history. The remaining child was married and living in San Antonio. Needless to say, each child’s situation had to be addressed in the clients’ documents.
Situations that put you out of the simple will category
What is truly a simple situation that can be addressed by a simple will? Generally, clients who can use a simple will to easily pass their estate do not have any of these situations:
Previous marriages (for a married couple) especially with children from a previous marriage
Uneven distribution among children or uneven timing of distributions (such as a payout to one child)
A child with a disability, especially if receiving government benefits
A child expected to “cause trouble” for any reason
A child still living at home (who may have to be evicted)
A married couple naming different alternate agents on all documents or wanting to name someone other than the spouse for executor
Clients where one spouse has been diagnosed with a disabling illness (such as Alzheimer’s)
Clients who want to give several specific gifts of property
If none of these apply, then the clients may be able to use a simple will. Simple, however, does not mean writing something down on a sheet of paper yourself. You should seek professional help getting the document right from the start. If the situation is truly simple, it may be a one-time expense, meaning the will should still reflect your wishes for many years to come.
Adding any complicating family situations makes a simple will unworkable for clients.
If you have the desire to get going with your estate plan, simple or not, contact Carla to get started.
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