Whenever the topic of estate planning comes up, people invariably mention creating a will. And with good reason—having a will is a foundational aspect of your estate plan.
However, a will is only one small part of effective planning. In fact, if your plan consists of a will alone, you’re guaranteeing your family will have to go to court when you die. There’s a saying in this field of law: “Where there’s a will, there’s a probate.” And it’s no laughing matter.
One of my primary goals as an estate planning attorney is to keep my clients’ families out of court and out of conflict no matter what. Yet with only a will in place, your plan will fall woefully short of that goal, leaving your loved ones—and yourself, if you become incapacitated —susceptible to getting stuck in an unnecessary, expensive, time-consuming, and public court process.
Here’s why having just a will is not enough:
A will offers no protection against incapacity
Awill helps ensure your assets are properly distributed when you die. But it offers no protection if you become incapacitated and are unable to make decisions about your own medical, financial, and legal needs.
Should you become incapacitated with only a will in place, your family would have to petition the court to appoint a guardian or conservator to manage your affairs, which can be extremely costly, time consuming, and traumatic.
Your family must go to court
While you may think having a will allows your loved ones to inherit your assets without court intervention, this is not true. For your assets to be legally transferred to your beneficiaries, your will must first pass through the court process called probate.
The probate process can be extremely distressing for your loved ones. The proceedings can drag out over years, and in most instances, your family will have to hire an attorney, generating hefty legal bills that can quickly drain your estate.
Moreover, probate is public, so anyone can find out the value and contents of your estate. They can also learn what and how much your family members inherit, making them tempting targets for frauds and scams.
And if you think you can just pass on your assets using beneficiary designations to avoid all of this… well, that’s just asking for trouble.
A will doesn’t protect against creditors, lawsuits, or poor decisions
Passing on your assets using a will leaves those assets vulnerable to several potential threats. Your assets are not only subject to claims made by a beneficiary’s creditors, but they are also vulnerable to lawsuits and divorce settlements the beneficiary may be involved in. And if your beneficiary is immature or has poor judgment, a sudden windfall of cash could cause serious problems.
Not all assets are covered by a will
Some assets can’t even be included in a will. For example, a will only covers assets or property owned solely in your name. It does not cover property co-owned by you with others listed as joint tenants, nor does a will cover assets that pass directly to a beneficiary by contract, such as a life insurance policy or retirement account.
Don’t let your plan fall short
Though a will is an integral part of your estate plan, a will is almost never enough by itself. Instead, wills are often combined with other planning vehicles, such as living trusts, to provide a level of protection devoid of any gaps or blind spots. And here’s the thing: If your plan is incomplete, it’s your family that suffers, having to clean it all up after you are gone.
I want to empower you to feel confident that you have the right combination of planning solutions for your family’s unique circumstances. Please let me know if you have any questions.
Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and protecting your legacy,