While many people resist drafting a will because the activity requires them to contemplate life after they are gone, most of them feel relief after completing the task. Creating a will can provide peace of mind for testators and family members because it divides assets and assigns them to beneficiaries. If written well, a will efficiently streamlines the probate process and allows grieving family members to focus on healing after a loved one's death.
On the other hand, poorly written wills create problems that can lead to messy legal disputes in court, where family members may channel their grief in destructive ways. If you have been reading information about probate and estate litigation on our website, you know that these are common areas that cause problems during probate: will execution, the mental capacity of the decedent and undue influence on the decedent during the will's drafting.
While it is helpful to have a will on hand, the will must be properly executed. These are the most common errors testators make when drafting a will. Avoiding these errors may make the difference in how the court respects your wishes after your death:
1. Using a generic template to create your own will
Using an online form to draft a will is initially less expensive than hiring an attorney to write the will. In many cases, however, the generic template will not account for asset or property distribution specific to an individual's needs. The money that you save by writing this document may be lost should the legitimacy of the will be challenged. Proper estate attorneys know how to design a will that can best serve your needs and interests.
2. Leaving the will unrevised
When your life circumstances change, your will should reflect these alterations. If you have gotten divorced, have received a large inheritance or have welcomed children into your family, your will should be amended to incorporate these new factors. Experts recommend modifying the document approximately every two or three years.
3. Selecting a poor executor
The executor is responsible for completing many tasks: reporting the decedent's death to the proper institutions and agencies, handling outstanding bills, maintaining an inventory of the decedent's assets and distributing the decedent's possessions. The aforementioned list is not exhaustive; there are other duties that the executor must complete. It is necessary to identify a trustworthy and organized individual to dispense with the duties assigned the executor.
4. Ignoring tax implications of property
While bequeathing large sums of money or highly valued property is praiseworthy, in some cases these gifts can create an economic burden for beneficiaries. For example, money that an estate receives through rental property may be taxed. Additionally, inherited property that is sold is subject to taxation.
While Florida does not levy a tax on inheritance, there is a federal estate tax that is assessed on the estate when the testator passes. This tax may reduce the sums bequeathed to beneficiaries.
To reduce the impact that federal taxes have on their estates, many people seek out advisors who create trusts to protect their estates.
There are many options available to those drafting a will. Those interested in streamlining probate with a properly executed will are advised to seek the counsel of a knowledgeable attorney.