There’s No Such Thing as a “Simple Will”

I get this request, in some form or another, on a regular basis – “I want a simple will.” The client is thinking they have a relatively straightforward collection of assets and a “typical” family. Then they drop the proverbial bomb and reveal that they have a half-interest in a rental property based in Honolulu, natural gas interests in another state, and a general partnership worth somewhere between $100,000 and $5,000,000. They also divulge the fact that they have one child who is physically disabled and another child who has served jail time with two divorces under their belt.

Clearly, a simple will is not going to be in the picture. And I make this determination in many instances when meeting with clients. Each individual’s estate is unique. It is important to look at all the complexities and nuances  so your estate plan is detailed, thorough, and legally valid.

When meeting with your estate planning attorney, I cannot underestimate the importance of full disclosure and being upfront and honest with your lawyer about your assets. We need to know about your assets because there could be estate tax issues (both federal and state estate taxes), income tax issues, titling issues, out of date beneficiary designations, etc. We need to know about your family situation to ensure you have the right directives and protections in place to support you, your family, and your helpers in the event of your disability or death.

Along with discussing your assets and family situation, we may talk about whether you should have a living trust. This estate planning instrument has many advantages over a traditional Last Will and Testament, including potential cost-savings by avoiding the probate process.

What many people may not realize is that there is are hidden and unexpected costs associated with a so-called “simple” Will or cookie-cutter Will that you may print off a web site. For example, what happens if your “simple will” features only one executor and that executor predeceases you? Does your Will address that issue? If not, there will likely be costs associated with having a different party assume the role of executor or executrix of your estate.

My firm’s clients will be sure to have not only have a Will or living trust, but also financial powers of attorney, health care powers of attorney (with living will provisions), instruction letters, along with other important estate planning documents.

So here’s the overarching message – even a short, relatively inexpensive Will is not “simple.” It is a weighty document, and it isn’t even possible to figure out what it ought to say until we’ve talked through some of the issues mentioned earlier about your assets, family situation, and estate planning goals. Additionally, whether your estate plan is simple or complex, it needs to be reviewed at least once per year. At InSightLaw, we treat our clients as partners and advocate for annual reviews so your estate plan is up to date and legally valid at all times. To learn more about our process, check out this page.