Estate

Providing For Your Loved Ones: Why a Will Is Not Enough

BY Mike Valles TIMEAugust 19, 2022 PRINT

The most common way to pass your assets to your beneficiaries is to use a will. One reason why wills are a common estate planning tool is that they are easy to create.  You can even create a will online.

Sometimes a will is all you need to get the job done.  However, sometimes a will may leave your beneficiaries less than you think. To ensure that your assets go where you want them to go, you will probably need some additional estate planning tools.

Here are some excellent reasons why you shouldn’t rely on a will alone.

A Will Can Be Easily Contested

Even when you have a will, it can be thwarted by people who feel slighted—or who are greedy. The more wealth you have, the more tools you need to protect your interests and assets to ensure they go where you intended.

When a will is contested, it can be nullified. This can easily happen if your will is not up-to-date. You can forget to modify it, with the result that there are more beneficiaries at the time of death than when you created it—say, through a remarriage.

While other forms of estate planning can be contested as well, it is generally easier to contest a will.

Wills Can Mean a Lengthy Probate Process

Most wills must go to probate court.  Your will cannot be executed until the probate court approves the will and validates it.

Probate can be a lengthy process.  Assets that your loved ones may need could be tied up for months—even as much as two or more years in probate court.  Accounts may be frozen.  Your loved ones may not have access to money they are counting on to meet their daily needs once the family’s breadwinner is gone.

Probate can also mean additional costs and taxes.  They will reduce the value of your estate—giving your beneficiaries less.

To avoid the lengthy probate process, consider other estate planning tools such as pay-on-death accounts or trusts.

Wills, Probate, and Debt

Medical bills or other debt may accumulate before you die—and they often do. Leaving unpaid bills could leave your spouse owing a lot of money.  When an individual dies with unpaid bills, those bills are generally paid through that person’s estate when it goes to probate.

This is yet another reason to avoid probate.

If you die in debt, simply relying on a will means that your beneficiaries might only get the balance of your estate after your bills have been paid. This could permanently change their lifestyle.

Probate and Flexibility: Wills Versus Trusts

Once the probate court approves your will and validates it, it cannot be changed.

If you do not name an executor in your will (assuming they are still alive), the probate court will appoint one. This may mean your assets are not distributed according to your intentions.

If you create a trust, on the other hand, you will appoint someone to manage it—someone you have approved because they will carry out your intentions concerning the assets in that trust. It also means that there is some flexibility if unexpected situations arise that require a change. This provides you with further control of your assets after your death.

The Content of a Will is Public

When a will is settled, the document and proceedings become a matter of public record. Anyone can discover the assets and who possesses them. If you have a trust, the assets in the trust and their distribution is a closed matter—not made public.

Other Limitations of a Will

Interim Decision-making

If you have a small estate, a will may be all that is needed. You need to know, however, that a will cannot accomplish some things you may need if you are still alive but unable to make decisions. A will can only affect your assets after you die. The things you may need before that time include:

Who will make medical decisions for you if you become incapacitated? You may need a lengthy hospitalization or long-term care. An advanced directive helps ensure you get the medical care you want after you can no longer make those decisions yourself.

Who will make financial decisions for you and be responsible for ongoing financial responsibilities? A durable power of attorney document can solve this problem.

Special Concerns About Beneficiaries

Do you have special concerns about how and when your assets will be transferred?  You may need an extra level of protection if you have very young children, children who are disabled or children with special needs who will always be dependent. For instance, if a disabled child is getting government benefits, these benefits could be jeopardized by naming them as a beneficiary.
Perhaps you have irresponsible or drug-dependent children and wish to ensure that your lifetime of saving and planning is not squandered.  A will cannot establish conditions under which a beneficiary might become disqualified from your inheritance.

Update Your Will Often

After creating a will, you will need to review it every couple of years and update it. Because life is constantly changing, there are occasions when you need to make changes:

  • You have another child
  • You buy or inherit more property
  • Your heirs get married, have or adopt children, or die
  • Your finances change
  • You move to a new state or buy property in a different state
  • Tax laws change.

A Will Cannot Override an Appointed Beneficiary

When you have certain types of accounts, such as life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and property held jointly, a will cannot override a beneficiary named in these accounts. This makes it important to look at your designated beneficiaries from time to time to ensure that the financial account—or property—goes where you intend it to go.

Conclusion

Making the transfer of assets and property to your loved ones as secure and tax-free as possible involves creating three instruments.  You need all of these to get the best protection.  Each one should be created by an estate planning attorney to ensure that it can accomplish its intended purpose successfully.  You will need the following:

  • A durable power of attorney: allows an appointed person to handle your finances and other matters if you become incapacitated
  • Advanced directive for health: appoints someone to make decisions for you in case you become incapacitated and unable to make medical decisions
  • A revocable trust: assets remain under your power until submitted to the trust. Ideally, most of your assets should be transferred to the trust before you die. Putting your assets in a trust allows them to pass to your heirs without going through probate.

Creating a will should be only part of your preparation for passing your assets on to the next generation.

The Epoch Times Copyright © 2022 The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors. They are meant for general informational purposes only and should not be construed or interpreted as a recommendation or solicitation. The Epoch Times does not provide investment, tax, legal, financial planning, estate planning, or any other personal finance advice. The Epoch Times holds no liability for the accuracy or timeliness of the information provided.

Mike Valles
Mike Valles has been a freelance writer for many years and focuses on personal finance articles. He writes articles and blog posts for companies and lenders of all sizes and seeks to provide quality information that is up-to-date and easy to understand.
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