Estate Planning…What Do Wills NOT Do

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As discussed in previous blogs, it’s important to have a will and estate plan in place.  But though there are many advantages to creating a will, there are some things a will simply can’t do.  A will is the perfect document for parents with minor children to use to designate a guardian for their children, minimizing court intervention and honoring their wishes.  A will is also the right estate planning document to use to designate an executor for your estate. You can also, through a will, choose to provide for specific persons who would not otherwise be provided for under Virginia state intestacy laws, such as friends, godchildren or stepchildren.

There is no doubt that you need a will, however you also need to understand the limitations of a will.  For this reason, it is always advisable to meet and discuss your needs and wishes with a knowledgeable and experienced Virginia estate planning attorney who can help you determine which estate documents you need for your specific situation.

Here’s what a will cannot do:

  • A will cannot help you avoid federal estate taxes, although some kinds of trusts can reduce or postpone tax liability.
  • If you hold property with another person through joint tenancy, tenancy by the entirety or community property with right of survivorship, your will cannot change the beneficiaries of such properties.
  • A will cannot help you avoid probate, although any property you have transferred to a living trust will not go through the probate process.
  • If you have life insurance for which you have named a specific beneficiary, then you cannot designate a different beneficiary, or any beneficiary of that account, in your will.
  • Any money you have saved in a retirement account, IRA, 401(k) plan for which you’ve named a beneficiary does not go through your will.
  • Some stocks and bonds held with a transfer-upon-death designation will not go through your will.
  • If you have a payable-upon-death bank account, it will not go directly to beneficiaries and not through your will.
  • You cannot leave a gift in your will which is contingent on the marriage, divorce, or change of religion of a beneficiary.
  • You cannot leave money in your will for an illegal purpose.
  • You cannot provide long-term care for a loved one in your will. Trusts can provide long-term care for loved ones, in particular, special needs trusts can provide for loved ones suffering from incapacity or disability.
  • You can’t leave money to your pets in your will. However, you can leave your pet to a person who has agreed to provide a good home for said pet, and leave that person money to assist in paying for any expenses related to the pet. Through use of a trust you can establish ongoing care for any of your pets.

Leave a separate document regarding your funeral or memorial service

If you have spelled out your wishes for the disposition of your body, your funeral arrangements or memorial service arrangements in your will, be aware that wills are seldom read until days or sometimes weeks after the death. This is generally too late to be of any help to those who are left to plan your funeral or memorial service. It is a good idea to have a separate document created which clearly spells out your wishes for disposition of your body and other arrangements, making sure your loved ones have a copy or know the location of this document.

Don’t be one of the 55% of American adults without estate planning documents

Dying without a will almost guarantees that the manner in which your estate is distributed will not reflect your actual wishes. Having a will, on the other hand, allows you to exercise control of the many personal decisions Virginia default provisions cannot address. More than 55 percent of American adults don’t currently have a will or an estate plan of any kind.  Take the time to meet with an experienced Virginia estate attorney who can help you decide what type of estate plan will best suit your needs.

About Melone Hatley, P.C.

Melone Hatley, P.C. is a general practice law firm based in Reston and Virginia Beach. Our practice areas include Family LawDivorce and Special Needs Children, Traffic Ticket Defense, DUI/DWI Defense, and Trust and Estate Law.  Our philosophy is to provide all of our clients with the highest quality legal representation, innovative legal solutions, and unsurpassed dedication to customer service.  Through our high standards, we strive to be a trusted resource to our clients.

We know from experience that a successful attorney-client relationship depends on our ability to understand your needs and objectives.  For more information about wills and estate planning, contact our office today at 703.995.9900 or reach us through our contact page.

Rebecca Melone

Written By Rebecca Melone

Rebecca Melone established Melone Hatley P.C. in 2014 with the goal of helping families with a range of legal services from estate and family law to traffic tickets and misdemeanor criminal matters.
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