Simple wills are the most common estate planning document in Alabama, but they aren't right for everyone. In Mobile County and Baldwin County where we practice, many lawyers offer simple wills as the only option, and those are likely better than whatever you find online. A simple will leaves everything to your spouse, and then to children in equal shares if your spouse dies before you. Sounds simple enough, right? But there are dangers and costs that simple wills don't protect against. Here are a few of them.
Simple Wills Don't Protect Stepchildren
Simple wills and blended families don't mix well (pun intended). Couples are sometimes surprised to learn that, in Alabama, there is no such thing as a joint will. Keep in mind that a will can be revoked at any time, and a new will revokes an old one. Since each spouse has a separate will, the surviving spouse is free to change the plan after the first spouse dies. This happens more often than you think. It even happens in families that aren't blended, especially when the surviving spouse remarries. If you want a plan that is binding on the surviving spouse, that usually requires a living trust instead of a simple will.
Simple Wills Don't Protect Disabled Spouses
If you live to a ripe old age, chances are greater that you will leave behind a spouse who needs someone to care for them. It's not uncommon for spouses to care for each other, but that plan falls apart when the first spouse dies. Your will can include a special trust to hold assets in case your spouse needs help, which could make it easier to qualify for government benefits to pay for care. Money in the trust can be used to pay for extra things that benefits don't cover. If the surviving spouse needs care, they get the best of both worlds. If they don't, the trust isn't needed so it doesn't complicate things. Unless a couple has enough money to pay for an unlimited amount of long-term care (which is frightfully expensive), why wouldn't they want to include this in their wills? We include it in almost all our plans for married couples at no extra charge.
Simple Wills Don't Protect Young People
If you have adult children, you may think this is not an issue for you. But what happens if one of your children dies before you do? Your grandchildren could take in their place. When someone under the age of 19 takes under a simple will, there will be a court-ordered conservatorship. The conservator is under strict rules about how to invest the money, so high-performing investments will have to be sold and put into certificates of deposit. The day the child turns 19, the money is all theirs and you can imagine what happens next. Including a very simple trust for young children in your will can prevent this costly result. It's especially important for families with young children to address this in their planning.
Simple Wills Aren't the Only Option
It's 2020. Lawyers can and should be using appropriate planning tools to offer more than just simple wills. At the same time, too many choices can seem overwhelming. Our goal is to provide you with the options you need without over complicating your plan.
Thoughtful estate planning can help protect your family from these issues and many others. Find out how by calling 251-431-6014 and scheduling a free phone consultation with one of the Ladd Firm's experienced attorneys. Not ready to schedule? Sign up for our e-newsletter or like our Facebook page for important updates that could affect your estate.