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A last will and testament is the foundation of most estate plans. Many of our clients, when creating a will, wonder just how specific they should be with the provisions. It’s a good question, and one that deserves exploration.
On one hand, if you are not specific enough in your will, you could create confusion that results in litigation over your estate, and possibly in your wishes not being honored. On the other hand, too much detail could result in unintended consequences. For example, leaving specific items of roughly equivalent value to each of your children, rather than equal shares of your estate, could result in inequity if some of those assets increase in value before your death and others decline.
Perhaps a better question than “How much detail do I need to put in my will?” is “What am I trying to achieve with my last will and testament, and how can I make my wishes clear?” An experienced estate planning attorney can help you clarify your goals and use the language best calculated to achieve them.
Every person who creates a last will and testament has their own unique goals, but there are certain things that all people want to achieve with their estate plan. You want your assets to go to the people and organizations that you care about. You want people you trust in charge of managing your estate and if necessary, caring for your young children. And you want to avoid needless and costly conflict over your estate.
With those common goals in mind, we can talk about what you need to include when creating a will. The best way to prevent conflict (and probate litigation to resolve it) is to be clear about your intentions. Accordingly, here are some details you should definitely include in your will:
You don’t need to worry too much about how much detail to put in your will if your estate planning attorney understands your goals. For instance, if you want to distribute your estate equally to your three children, your attorney will help you clarify what all of your assets are, explain which of them pass through a will and which don’t, and ensure that your overall estate plan achieves the fair treatment you want.
It can be very helpful to your personal executor to have a list of your personal property as an addendum to your will, but be sure to keep the list updated to make sure they are accurate. You would need to refer to your personal property memorandum in your will and update it as you acquire new assets or transfer old ones away. You may also want to keep a list of digital assets, including account numbers, user names, and passwords so that your personal representative can access them when the time comes.
Having these inventories of personal property and digital assets will keep you from needing to update your will itself as frequently. That said, you should plan to update (or at least review) your will every few years; you may want to add or change beneficiaries. For the same reason, you should plan to review your estate plan after any major life transition such as a marriage, birth or adoption of a child, or divorce.
Whatever your life circumstances, your estate planning attorney can help you ensure that your will is detailed enough to avoid confusion, and flexible enough to prevent unintended inequity. To learn more, contact Mundahl law at 763-575-7930.