The Biggest Mistakes People Make with Their Wills

As estate planning attorneys, our clients often ask us what makes our wills stand out.  Similarly, our clients often note that our wills are longer and have more provisions than documents they’ve seen in the past.  In making such observations, however, our clients have avoided the most consequential mistake regarding wills – not having one.

Mistake 1: Not Having a Will

Thinking about and planning for death is difficult, but not having a will can make life very difficult for your family members that survive you.  If a person dies intestate, i.e., without a will, their property will be distributed to their heirs by law.  Your property will go to your closest living relative(s) in Maryland, as determined by a pre-set pecking order.  Specifically, the property will go to one’s children, then their parents, then their siblings, and then down the family tree until the closest living relative or group of relatives is found, then distributed to that person or equal to that group of people.  

The issue, however, is that someone may not want their closest living relative(s) to inherit property.  If, for example, one wanted the property to go to a non-blood relative such as a sister-in-law, that person would be out of luck under most intestacy laws.  Likewise, someone may have an estranged relative they want to disinherit, or one may want their property to be distributed to different people in different amounts or on specific terms.  Giving cash to someone with addiction problems may not be a good idea.  Having a will puts you in control.

Mistake 2: Large, Lump Sum Inheritances

Depending on the recipient, transferring much money outright, all at once, can have unintended and negative consequences.  Giving free cash to someone who struggles with addiction problems may do more harm than good, both to that person and to the rest of the family that must deal with the situation.  Likewise, young adults, such as children in their 20s or even 30s, may not be fiscally responsible.   

If giving a large sum of money to a family member outright isn’t prudent, then a will can give the money to a trust for that family member’s benefit.  Doing so allows for more protections, such as control over disbursements and protecting against creditors and divorce.

Mistake 3: Not Tying Up Loose Ends

Going back to the beginning of this post, our wills are longer than most for a reason.  Although a simple will, like the ones readily available online, is short and to the point, it can often cause more problems than they solve.  A classic example is a joint bank account owned by a parent and a child.  It isn’t uncommon for a parent to make a child a co-owner for convenience reasons, such as establishing credit for a child or to make it easier for the child to use the parent’s money for the parent’s benefit.  Under Maryland law, however, the presumption is that the surviving co-owner inherits the account.  So, if one’s will states that all assets should be equally divided between two children, but most of the assets are held in an account where only one child is a co-owner, absent a properly drafted will, the other child is out of luck.  At this stage, one child stands to inherit the lion’s share of the wealth, and the other believes it should be divided equally. Unless the kids work something out, family relationships may be irreparably damaged.

The above is just one example of the dangers of a simple will, but our will is drafted to deal with this and many other unintended situations preemptively. Our wills combine decades of experience to achieve your wishes without unexpected consequences.

Your Will Ensures Your Legacy

The goal at Altman & Associates is to make sure our clients are comfortable and secure, knowing that their assets will be passed to their loved ones in the amounts and under the terms they desire.  Likewise, we want our clients to be confident, knowing their decisions will not cause strife or resentment.  Our goal is for our clients to be comfortable knowing that when they die, their assets will be used to benefit their loved ones in the best way.

Contact the estate team at Altman & Associates if you’re considering creating or amending your will.  You can reach us at (301) 468-3220.

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