A will is a powerful tool that allows a person to provide for the transfer of his or her property at death. Wills preserve the concept of a persons’ freedom to dispose of his assets as he wishes. A will is a critical piece of an estate plan. However, a will cannot do everything.
A will cannot leave money for an illegal purpose. You can’t leave money for the specific purpose of helping a friend plan a robbery or to encourage minors to drink alcohol. Sorry.
A will cannot leave money to pets. Your pet is part of your family, but unfortunately, he or she cannot own property. In order to take care of your pet after you are gone, a pet trust should be created.
A will can, but should not provide for your funeral arrangements. Funerals tend to occur pretty quickly after a person dies. Most of the time, a will is not read, or even found, until after the funeral is over and the dust has settled. Picture the movie scene that has the family gathered around the attorneys’ desk all dressed in black fresh from the burial. It is better to create a separate document to set out how you would like to dispose of your body. Make sure you also tell your family and executor where to find that information.
A will cannot be used to dispose of certain types of property. For example: Property you hold in joint tenancy with someone else (or in “tenancy by the entirety” or “community property with right of survivorship” with your spouse). At your death, your share will automatically belong to the surviving co-owner. A will provision leaving your share would have no effect unless all co-owners died simultaneously. Also, property you’ve transferred to a living trust; proceeds of a life insurance policy for which you’ve named a beneficiary; money in a pension plan, individual retirement account (IRA), 401(k) plan, or other retirement plan; stocks or bonds held in beneficiary (transfer-on-death or TOD) form and money in a payable-on-death bank account.
A will cannot be used to avoid probate. Wills are also not the best way to care for a beneficiary with special needs. Providing someone with long-term care is a more complicated process best suited for a special needs trust.
Wills are a piece of the estate planning process. They are not the only piece. See a qualified estate planning attorney to ensure all of your wishes can be taken care of through the various available avenues.