Although using specific bequests in your will or living trust has several disadvantages, you may decide to use this method of passing property to your heirs for a variety of reasons. Family dynamics often leave parents few alternatives but to make
specific bequests of various items, resulting in a complicated estate plan. While this may mean a parent has to change his will or trust more frequently, the parent may decide it is the only option given the personalities of his children or the type of property involved.If you decide the disadvantages associated with specific bequests are outweighed by your desire to ensure specific property will pass to a particular beneficiary, there are steps you can take to avoid some of the problems that may arise, such as:1. Have your will and living trust drafted by an experienced estate planning lawyer. Explain that you want to ensure certain property only passes to a particular heir but you also want to reduce the need for frequent changes to estate planning documents. Your attorney can discuss potential life events that could result in changes to your assets or beneficiaries. Based on your unique circumstances, your attorney may suggest provisions in your will or trust that anticipate these changes.2. Review your will and living trust at least once every year. If you sold property that was left to a particular beneficiary in your estate plan or purchased new property you want a specific individual to inherit, contact your attorney to determine whether you need to make a codicil or amendment. Failure to keep your estate planning documents current could result in one of your children being disinherited because the property you left them in a specific bequest is no longer in your estate. See
Accidental Disinheritance. For example, if your will leaves your house to your child and the remainder of your estate to your sibling, and you subsequently sell your house, your child may inherit nothing, even though that was not your intent. By reviewing your estate plan regularly, you can make the necessary updates to ensure your property passes according to your wishes.3. Pay close attention to language in your will or living trust regarding how your residuary estate or the residue of your trust will be distributed. The residuary estate or residue of the trust consists of estate or trust property not specifically bequeathed to a particular heir or beneficiary in a specific bequest. Depending on applicable state laws, your residuary estate may include proceeds from property you sold that was the subject of a specific bequest. Consult an attorney regarding the consequences of selling property that is subject to a specific bequest in your estate plan.4. If your estate plan includes a living trust, you may want to include detailed instructions in the trust document regarding how property should be divided among your beneficiaries. As part of the trust administration process, the successor trustee is responsible for determining how to distribute trust property to the beneficiaries according to the trust document and applicable law. Make your wishes for your property known to the successor trustee named in your trust. Ask your lawyer to include provisions in your trust that will allow your trustee to distribute property in a manner consistent with your wishes regarding specific property, as well as the residue of your trust.5. Make sure your will or living trust includes provisions on how specific bequests should be distributed in the event the named beneficiary does not survive you. For example, if you want certain heirlooms or land to stay within your immediate family, rather than passing to a stepchild, spouse of an heir, etc. discuss these concerns with your attorney. Your estate planning documents should contain provisions for how such property should pass if a particular beneficiary predeceases you.
Updating Your Will or Living Trust
Regardless of the steps you take to plan for changes in your property and beneficiaries, there will be times when updating your estate plan is unavoidable. For instance, when you sell an asset which represents a large portion of your net worth, such as a home, farm or business, your living trust may need to be amended to ensure the proceeds, or any new assets you purchase, pass to your intended beneficiaries. If you need to update your living trust, you may need to execute a
Trust Restatement Form.If you are concerned about estate planning costs, talk with an attorney about the most cost effective way to update your estate plan. Avoid the temptation to attempt to change your will or living trust on your own. This is one of the most frequent causes of will and trust disputes. See fatal errors in execution. Furthermore, the best way to prevent these types of problems is to avoid making specific bequests in your estate plan.While you may get a bargain price on estate planning documents by using an online service or fill in the blank forms, you could end up paying the costs of your initial estate plan several times over if your estate plan requires frequent revisions due to the use of specific bequests without professional legal advice. Furthermore, if your estate ends up in litigation because your will or living trust was poorly drafted, your children or other beneficiaries may lose their inheritance to legal fees. See will and trust disputes.
If you plan to make specific bequests of property in your will or living trust, it is worth the investment to speak with an attorney before completing your estate plan. It is often much less expensive to hire an attorney than most people realize. Also, many law firms will complete estate planning documents on a flat fee or fixed fee basis so you know the total cost in advance. A good attorney will make suggestions that may save you money and reduce the need for codicils and trust amendments in the future. See change my will.Making estate planning decisions is emotionally draining to most people. Reviewing legal fine print filled with complicated language can be tedious. Once you go through the process and complete your estate plan, you donít want to repeat it anytime soon. Consult an attorney to ensure your estate plan is prepared correctly the first time around. See finding an attorney.
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