Movies and television often portray wills as mysterious documents that guard hidden treasures over which many family feuds ensue. However, in real life, a will is a legal document containing your final wishes.
Depending on how you draft your will, the size of your estate and the number of heirs you leave behind, your legacy may very well be the stuff of daytime TV dramas. It is important to understand the power your will has while you’re alive and after you leave this world. If you have substantial assets and properties, the existence of your will may influence the behavior of future heirs while you are alive (see soap opera reference again). How effective your will is depends on how clearly it is written, whether it is drafted by an experienced attorney and whether it is updated often.
Assuming all of these criteria are met, your last will and testament has the power to accomplish the following tasks after you die:
• Ensuring your pet is taken care of — It’s true, you can leave funds aside, property and even an assigned caretaker to ensure your pet lives a happy life.
• Donating your assets to charity — Do you have a favorite charity that you would like to benefit from your wealth when you’re gone? Your will has the power to ensure such wishes are met.
• Dividing your estate up equally — In the event that you have more than one heir (e.g., a spouse and children), you can instruct to have your assets divided equally among everyone.
• Disinheriting your expected heirs — Alternatively, you can leave your heirs nothing.
• Providing instructions should you become incapacitated — You can even include in your will instructions for family members about what they should do if you should become mentally or physically incapacitated and unable to answer for yourself.
The will of Henry VIII of England is one of the most famous examples of how powerful a will can be. In Henry VIII’s will, it named the succession of heirs to the house of Tudor. You might not realize it, but by creating a will and deciding who receives your assets, you are in fact creating a succession of sorts.
Alec Borenstein is a Partner at BMC Estate Planning. Alec went to Loyola Law School in Los Angeles where he graduated cum laude and in the top 10% of his class. Alec is also a Member of the Order of the Coif. In 2006-2007 Alec served as the Chief Articles Editor for Volume 40 of the Loyola Law Review. Alec is admitted in New York and New Jersey and practices in both states and in the Federal Courts. Alec is also an award-winning speaker and business coach. Alec was recently a business development consultant for The Rainmaker Institute, until Alec came back to practice as an estate planning attorney in New Jersey.