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What Do Wills Not Do?

While there are many advantages to having a will, there are some things a will simply can’t do. As an example, a will is the perfect document for parents with minor children to designate a guardian for your children, minimizing court intervention. A will is also the right estate document to designate an executor of 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.

As you can see, you do need a will, however you also need to understand the limitations of the will.  For this reason, it is always advisable to discuss your needs with an 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 your will’s 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—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-on-death form, will not go through your will.
  • If you have a payable-on-death bank account, it will not go through your will.
  • You cannot leave a gift 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. A trust is the right avenue to for providing long-term care for loved ones, in particular, a special needs trust.
  • 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 to your pet, and leave that person money to assist in paying for any expenses related to the pet.

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

Don’t Be One of The Fifty-Five Percent of American Adults Without a Will

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 state default provisions cannot address. More than 55 percent of American adults don’t currently have a will, or an estate plan of any kind.

Don’t stick your head in the sand and hope for the best, rather 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. Contact us today to get started!