Many people know what they can accomplish with a will: spell out who takes which portions of their property and how, who will care for their minor children in the event of the person’s death, etc. But, you may not be aware that there are certain things you cannot accomplish with a will. Though a will is a simple and effective way to address your estate planning wishes (if it is done correctly, of course) the following is a discussion of some things that, even if you do them, “by the book” will not be effective when included in your will. When discussing your intentions and wishes it is useful to have an estate planning attorney represent your interests. If you have other questions about wills, be sure to check out our frequently asked questions about wills in New Mexico article.
Because a person’s will may not be sought or discovered until weeks after the person’s death, specifying in your will what should happen at your funeral or how your body should be disposed of is usually not effective. Instead, a person should consider executing a separate document which details their wishes with regard to their funeral, and inform the executor of the estate that the document exists and where it can be located.
By law, a pet cannot own property. As such, you should not attempt to leave a portion of your estate to your pets. If you’re intent on having your pets cared for in the event of your death, consider leaving your pet with a person you trust to care for the pet in the way you want. Also, some jurisdictions allow “pet trusts,” which allow people to leave money in trust for the care of their pets, and designate a trustee who will use the money to care for the pets.
If you give away more than $5.25 million in a lifetime, your estate will likely owe federal estate taxes. Unfortunately, a will provision cannot help avoid this fact. Instead, consider certain types of trusts, which you can discuss with an experienced estate planning attorney.
With respect to leaving certain kinds of gifts to beneficiaries named in your will, there are limitations on what conditions can be placed on the receipt of those gifts. For example, in your will you cannot condition a person’s gift on that person’s divorcing their current spouse, or changing their religion. You can, however, specify less stringent conditions such as “to my daughter, when she goes to college.” If you decide to make any gift condition, however, be wary- doing so usually invites will contests, and there is no telling whether anyone can or will enforce the conditions.
Though this restriction rarely comes up, it goes without saying that you cannot leave a portion of your estate for an illegal purpose, such as a farm on which to grow illegal marijuana plants.
Generally, most property given away by will needs pass through the probate system, which can be a lengthy (and often expensive) process. There are ways to avoid probate that are not accomplished in a will, which can be discussed with an experienced estate planning attorney. Feel free to contact our office for a free consultation regarding planning for your estate.