Wills That Do What You Want

A client recently asked me what she can do to make sure that no one fights over her will after she is gone.  While this woman’s estate is not large, she had worked hard all her life to build a nest egg to see her through her old age and leave a small legacy for her family.  Whatever the amount, she does not want it to be squandered to pay legal bills or to create bad feelings.

In this day and age, it’s impossible to predict what people might argue – or sue – about.  However, the clearer you are about your intentions, the less likely it is that they will be disputed.

The woman who asked this question had written her will to have her estate divided equally among her children, some of whom were born after the will was written.  In order to prevent any dispute about whether she might have meant only the children who had been born when the will was written, she decided to sign a Codicil (an amendment to a will) stating that she wants her estate divided among all of her children who are living at the time of her death.

Questions about the intent of the testator (the person who wrote the will) can also arise if a beneficiary named in a will has died before the testator.  It is a good idea to identify at least one contingency beneficiary if that should happen.  My client wants her estate divided among her children living at the time of her death, so if any of her children die before she does, their portion would be divided among their living siblings.  Other individuals might want to leave a deceased child’s estate to the children or other heirs of that deceased child.   There is no right or wrong choice, but it is important that your will clearly expresses the choice you have made.

You should also clearly document your intention to exclude someone from your will who might expect a gift, or is in the same class (such as siblings or children) as others who are receiving gifts.  For example, you might state that you have 3 sisters: Anna, Betty and Cathy.  You are leaving $1,000 to Anna and Betty, but nothing to Cathy.  This would make it impossible for Cathy to claim that her omission was simply an oversight.

Some of the synonyms for the word ‘will’ are ‘choice’ and ‘preference.’ Using your Will to make your choices clear can give your family the added gift of a clear understanding of your preferences.

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