Why the Simple Will Sometimes Isn’t

“Well, I just want a simple will.”

I’ve heard this sentence–or some version of it anyway–many, many times when I talk with people about estate planning. When I hear people tell me they want a simple will, what I hear are some of the concerns and fears that many people have when they plan their estates. Here are some of the fears that I think are behind the request for a simple will:

“I’m afraid that I’m not going to understand my documents.”

Legal documents are hard to read, right? Sometimes, they sure are. I’ve read a few legal documents in my career, and some of them are a real chore to understand. A will or trust that is prepared for you should make sense to you.

In my practice, clients always have at least two opportunities to review documents and ask questions: when they get the first draft of their estate plans, and when they see the final drafts before signing. I encourage questions; I think estate planning is a big deal and you should understand your plan before you sign.

Also, make sure your lawyer explains any legal jargon in the document. It’s almost inevitable that you’re going to have some of this in your documents, and if you don’t know what, for example, “independent administration” is, you should ask.

“I don’t want to make things too complicated.”

Your lawyer should be recommending a plan that fits your particular situation. Depending on the goals you have for your estate, a “simple will” might not be enough. Is it important to you that you avoid probate? You’ll need more than a simple will. Do you have beneficiaries with disabilities or who run into trouble handling money? A simple will isn’t going to protect those people.

Sometimes situations call for more complex solutions–and that’s okay. What I think is most important is that you understand why your plan has the components it has, and that you’re clear on what everything does. You should ask your lawyer questions like:

  • How does each part of the estate plan fit my goals?
  • What happens if I don’t have this part of my plan? What goals am I sacrificing?
  • Can I achieve my goals in multiple ways?

“I don’t want to spend too much.”

Let’s just get this on the table; people worry that legal services will be too expensive for them. And an estate plan isn’t quite as much fun to spend money on than a cell phone or a big television or fancy shoes or that trip to Belize.

First, it’s true that the more complex the plan, generally the more it’s going to cost. This is another reason to make sure that you understand why every part of the plan is doing something to achieve your goals. Second, I don’t recommend doing planning that I don’t think is helpful to you (and I bet a lot of other attorneys are the same way), but you can always ask what your options are and work from there. Finally, make sure that you understand the cost-benefit analysis of what the plan is doing. A plan that costs more but helps you avoid probate, for instance, may save thousands of dollars in the long run.

The simple will might work for you–or it might not. It’s better to come up with a plan that fits your circumstances than to hope a “simple will” protects you and your loved ones from additional complications down the road.

Photo credit: Flickr user Kristian Bjornard, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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