Can you do anything you want in a will?

In the past, we’ve discussed what you should include in your will and how you can use various estate vehicles to ensure your wishes are abided by even after your death. But can you do anything you want with regard to disbursement of assets in your will? Could you leave all of your worldly goods to a favorite pet, or disinherit one son in favor of another? While television plotlines make it seem like you can do anything in a will, the truth is that there are some legal limitations.

What you can do in a will really depends on your legal situation and state. States have different laws governing how a testator – the person making the will – can treat spouses and children, for example. You can typically not disinherit a minor child in any state, for example, and the same goes for a spouse. You might be able to disinherit a child who is no longer a dependent, but that would have to be handled in detail in your will.

Disinheritance is not the only thing limited by law when it comes to wills. Some property doesn’t even descend by will at all. If you have property that you own in joint tenancy with a spouse, such as real estate or a checking account, that property typically goes to the spouse upon your death. The same can be true if you have elected beneficiaries on any property, such as life insurance or a pension account. The property usually transfers to the beneficiary despite what a will might say.

Understanding the limitations of a will and how a will should work in conjunction with other estate planning tools is important. Working with a legal professional can help you understand how to create an integrated estate plan that works for you and your heirs.

For quality legal support in drafting and executing a proper will, contact The Law Offices of Yacoba Ann Feldman for a consultation.