12 Facts You Never Knew About Wills
No, it’s not fun to think about your own death, but preparing a will is key if you have a family to consider.
12 Facts You Never Knew About Wills
When it comes to creating a will, pretty much anyone with loved ones knows this is an important thing to do. Of course, that doesn’t always equate to getting it done quickly.
Case in point: It took me and my husband approximately two years and two babies from when we first set out to create a will to actually getting it done. Along the way we learned some pretty interesting facts about wills, which got me wondering what else I might not know about this all-important document.
Turns out, there’s quite a lot.
Technology Comes in Handy
Fact 1: People of all ages — not just millennials — are making wills on their phones.
In fact, tens of thousands of people have created a will with the online will creation site, Fabric, says Allison Kade, the site’s editorial director. “And two-thirds of those did so on their mobile devices,” she adds. “That includes millennials, certainly, but baby boomers, too.”
Women Are More Inclined
Fact 2: Women tend to write wills more often than men.
Among people who made an online will with Fabric, almost eight in 10 were women, says Kade.
“Women also write their wills on a mobile device about 55 percent more often than men do," she adds.
Office Supplies Matter
Fact 3: Staples are important.
If you plan to make changes to the way your document is stored, be very strategic about whether or not you staple it.
“As far as the staple goes, the primary concern is possible alteration,” says John R. O’Brien, an attorney based in Chicago. “If a will has extra staple holes, it can still be valid, as long as someone explains why, such as having taken it apart to make a photocopy or email it.”
Fact 4: Leaving things in containers can be a problem.
If you always thought you could simply write: “I wish to leave the contents of my hope chest to my daughter and the contents of the big brown box in the attic to my son” in your will and call it a day, you might want to consider getting more specific.
“Because the testator — or the person making the will — can freely transfer items from one container to the other, and so could the two beneficiaries, it creates uncertainty as to what the person really intended at the time the will was prepared,” says O’Brien.
Instead, O’Brien recommends keeping in mind that when it comes to will creation, it’s always best that the deceased’s intentions be clearly expressed, so that the court can be sure that the executor can follow them.
Fact 5: Exact phrasing is important, too.
Very small words or phrases can change your entire will, says Hilary A. Fuelleborn, Esq., an estate planning attorney with Luskus & Fuelleborn P.C.
For example, “Saying, ‘It is my wish,’ instead of, ‘I give,’ can be the difference between the executor having to follow your orders and the executor having discretion in distributions,” she explains.
Pets Are a No-Go
Fact 6: You cannot leave property to your pet.
As much as you may love Fluffy, leaving your beloved cat the contents of your estate won’t fly.
The primary reason, says O’Brien, is because the probate codes require that the executor submit signed receipts from all the beneficiaries. “And of course,” O’Brien adds, “animals can’t sign anything.”
Take Changes Seriously
Fact 7: Your scribbles mean nothing.
If you thought you could simply scratch out one section of your will and write in a change — even a minor one — think again. “The original document is what the court will look at,” says Randolph Rice, attorney and owner of the Law Offices of Randolph Rice. “Items scratched out have no validity, unless you sign by the change and have two witnesses verify you signed it.”
Additionally, if there are too many scribbles in your will, that can cause problems for your family in the future, too. “It’s best to draft a new will, so your family can avoid litigations down the road about what is and isn’t valid in your will,” says Rice.
Fact 8: More and more people are including what to do about their digital legacy in their wills.
As a writer with a professional website, a blog and a whole bunch of social media channels, one of the first things I considered when drafting my will was how I could leave all those assets to my husband to make sure they are handled properly when I’m gone. Surprisingly, a lot of people are considering the same thing these days. “When people die, they no longer leave behind only physical personal belongings,” says Rice.
He sees more and more people considering who they want to hold the key to all of their passwords, social media accounts, photos, music, websites, blogs, financial accounts and email accounts, among other things. He cautions will creators to consider if they want to leave their photographs or music library to one special person or if certain accounts should be deleted after your death.
Wills Are Universal
Fact 9: You probably don’t need to draft a new will if you move states.
Rice often comes across people in his practice who think they need to draft a new will when they move across state lines.
“This generally isn’t true,” he says. “Under Maryland law, we accept wills from any state. This reciprocity understanding is almost universal across many states.”
Think About Your Ex
Fact 10: Without a will, you could be leaving your ex in charge of your estate.
In some states, if you are a divorced parent with minor children and something happens to you without a will in place, you could be empowering your ex-spouse to act as the administrator of your estate.
“It is one of the unexpected and terrible outcomes of not having a will in New York state,” says Joann Palumbo, counsel with Tarter Krinsky & Drogin LLP. “If you don’t want your ex rifling through your intimate apparel and very personal papers after your death, you need to run, not walk, to your attorney’s office and sign a will.”
Wills Aren’t the End All Be All
Fact 11: The will is actually the least important document in your estate plan.
This one really surprised me when I learned about it: According to Patrick Simasko, attorney and wealth preservation specialist at Simasko Law, “most estates are distributed to the beneficiary [or the person who stands to inherit something from your will] pursuant to a joint ownership or a beneficiary on an account. These accounts supersede the last will and testament.”
In other words, even if your will lists that all your assets should be divided among your three children, if your oldest son is the beneficiary listed on your house, bank accounts, IRA and life insurance, then those assets will only go to your oldest son. “The will won’t come into play at all,” says Simasko.
Fact 12: In many states, there is no automatic inheritance to the children.
If your intention is absolutely to leave your assets to your children if something happens to you, you’ll need more than just a will. “If both parents have passed and even if they leave a will, their property can still end up in court in California if it’s more than $150,000,” says Aastha Madaan, an estate planning attorney with Madaan Law, P.C. “The only definitive way to avoid the property ending up in court is to create and maintain a living trust.”
Check with your lawyer for your state's specific laws or to find out how to create a living trust, which is a written legal document that places your assets into a trust that can then be transferred to your designated beneficiaries after your death.