As brilliant, loyal and reliable as he may be, you cannot legally leave money or property to your dog when you are gone. This scenario played out in the California Supreme Court years ago when a woman named Thelma Russell designated the division of assets in her will between Chester, Russell’s friend, and Roxy, Russell’s dog.
It would be remarkable if each of us could plan for our estate in any way we wish, but the reality is that taking on the task of writing your own will can backfire if very specific legal protocols are not followed.
There is, of course, the danger of not having a will at all. Without a last will and testament in place, if you have children who are underage and you are the only living parent or are single, the courts take over to appoint their guardian, while the laws of your state will determine exactly how your remaining property and assets are divided and distributed.
The greatest risk when writing your own will is that you may leave out critical information that becomes necessary to legally clarify your requests. For example, if you decided to split your estate and assets equally between your children, how does the court resolve claims that may arise among your own children by birth, your adopted children or other children under your guardianship?
Another common mishap when drafting your own will comes with failing to include complete names or adding descriptors when needed. If your parents named you Michael Green, and they have a close family friend also named Michael Green, you will be hoping that they added the descriptor “our son Michael Green” or an address indicating which Michael Green actually gets the family home. Otherwise, the family friend may contest the will and make a claim that he should be the beneficiary stated in the document.
If you have been working with multiple drafts of your will, or are updating your will, you must make sure you have taken the steps to make the most recent document legal and that the date appears on the will. A will setting up your favorite niece with a major gift will go south if you have not included a proper signature.
A critical time to update your will is with a major life change, such as a marriage, divorce or birth of a new child. If changes and additions have not been updated to reflect a division of assets between Veronica, your first child, and Charlie, your brand new baby, then the court will distribute your belongings according to what the valid will actually says. So even though your intentions were for an equal distribution, your valid will still only mentions Veronica. Make the updates!
Finally, you might have valuable assets that could get skipped over without knowledge and diligence in your will drafting process. Don’t forget the leftovers! Many writing their own will don’t include a residuary clause, often called a “leftovers” clause. It refers to just that – the assets that are left over after all specifically allocated items have been distributed. Without a properly written residuary clause, if you do end up having leftover assets, then you turn the fate of those items over to state law.
Because you won’t have the opportunity to defend your will once you are gone, soliciting will services from a qualified attorney can spare your loved ones from unintended mistakes and leave you with a peace that your last will and testament will indeed be carried out legally and competently.
If you need help writing your will, contact the Law Office of Christopher B. Johnson Law today.