Michael S. Simone, Esq.
When I meet with clients to craft customized estate plans, our document discussions focus heavily on last wills and testaments. But I emphasize that careful considerations should shape what people actually include—and omit—from their important legal wishes.
Over the years of consulting New Jersey families on legacy protection, I have seen small but costly will-writing mistakes that open unnecessary pain points down the road. Something as simple as naming a babysitter instead of proper guardians for minor kids sparks court battles no grieving family deserves. Outlining funeral details that loved ones can not financially uphold adds guilt to loss.
Our will lawyers walk through key items you should leave out of your will, either because other planning vehicles better suit the asset or objective or because they legally generate preventable problems.
Get your will right from day one and spare your heirs’ future hassles.
The first category covers accounts where you already named specific beneficiaries separately for that asset, commonly known as non probate items. Typically they are life insurance policies, 401(k) plans, IRAs, pensions, and similar assets. These require you to designate individuals to receive the proceeds directly in the account paperwork itself, totally bypassing your will instructions.
For example, if David’s will leaves his State Farm life insurance to sister Ellen, but the policy beneficiary form actually lists wife Joanna, the insurance funds distribute to Joanna regardless of David’s will. Always double check beneficiary forms match will bequests for these accounts.
Next, we have homes, vehicles, or financial accounts held jointly in shared ownership with designated co-holders. These also sidestep probate and your will’s direction, passing straight to the surviving co-owner(s) automatically in what’s called the “right of survivorship.”
So if Matilda jointly lists daughter Brittany on her bank account but wills those funds to local charity Helping Hands, Brittany receives the money as the surviving co-listed holder. Matilda’s Will gets overwritten.
Entrepreneurs work diligently growing their companies, often pouring personal passion into their trade or services along the way. Part of a responsible exit strategy involves outlining clear business succession plans detailing who receives ownership stakes when founders retire or face unexpected deaths.
Rather than naming successor partners in your personal will, utilize operating agreements, buy-sell agreements, or business trusts to officially reassign shares of ownership interest over time. Also, consider key person insurance to infuse capital when losses occur.
Wills may aim to direct these stakes, but enterprise operations flow better using binding corporate vehicles instead of looser testaments vulnerable to litigation from those questioning will provisions. Shield your life’s work.
Honoring last wishes for memorial services also weighs on loved ones, who aim both to respect preferences and manage logistics within budget realities. List general desires about burial plots, styles of services, and even special music or readings within reason.
But avoid dictating party sizes, menus, costly transportation for all relatives, or other heavy demands on survivors’ emotional bandwidth or wallets, which may only deepen the pain of losing you. The funeral and wake expenses typically are eventually reimbursed by the estate but initially are paid by a loved one(s).
Of course, detailing personal property requests or symbolic bequests to causes you care for often enhances customization, too. But tread very carefully regarding strings attached to gifts. Imposing rigid use expectations around inheritances or relationship tests on beneficiaries threatens your will itself.
For example, requiring heirs to use exactly 50% of funds for college or donate 10 hours monthly to a named charity for the next decade violates public policy boundaries. Such inflexibility may negate or reduce the gift entirely. Moreover, conditional gifts open objections over interpretations of your directives down the road in probate disputes. Instead, motivate through discussion, not legal confines.
Wills do not serve as wise vessels for sharing private financial account numbers, online credentials, or similar sensitive data. Universal access could be abused. Limit exposure by naming authorized executors to oversee closing accounts and redirecting autopays for continuity versus broadcasting credentials into eternal public record. Keep in mind once a Will is probated anyone could obtain a copy of the Will by requesting a copy from the Surrogate’s Office.
For sensitive health directives, use HIPAA releases and medical powers of attorney to permit essential patient dialogue while preventing overexposure to diagnoses. Streamline closure without deepening risk.
Under New Jersey law, marital assets presumptively share ownership regardless of whose name appears on accounts or titles. So, you cannot distribute what already belongs equally to a surviving spouse through “community property” rights. Create a will and give them your half of shared assets only.
If aiming to trustee assets for spouse’s lifespan benefit before second tier distribution to children from another relationship after both parents pass, carefully detail this multi-step allocation in living trusts, not simply will clauses attempting to override preexisting joint possessions. Trust vehicles better control asset flows without jeopardizing the unified marital estate along the way.
Pets can feel quite real in our families today, but current estate laws still consider pets as property, not legal beneficiaries who can inherit directly. Rather than naming Spot as your account inheritor, establish a designated pet trust instead. Funds flow into the trust for later guardians you picked to cover care costs for your animal’s lifetime needs.
We each forge unique estate plans matching our life journeys across time. But avoiding common missteps when drafting your core will sets both your legacy and loved ones up for stability ahead.
As your dedicated Cinnaminson estate planning attorneys, our team protects what matters most – your family. During a complimentary meeting, we explore inheritance matters deeply before helping you legally safeguard wishes and those you hold dear. Together, we thoughtfully shape what comes next while you focus on living fully today. Contact us today.
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