It seems easy to prepare a will especially if your wishes are simple. Even if you think you can do it yourself, we recommend you have a will and estate prepared by an attorney or other qualified professional. If it’s not, it can cause problems after your death.

  • Assets can be distributed to the wrong people.
  • Assets may not be distributed in the way you had wished.

People think they don’t have enough assets or complexity to their situation to warrant the help of a professional. That is simply not the case. We all have belongings and would like those distributed in a certain way, even if it is to donate them to a charity.

Words matter, especially when it comes to your will and estate.

You must spell out those wishes using specific language.

Philip Seymour Hoffman

When actor Philip Seymour Hoffman passed away on February 2, 2014, he left a will that named his lover and oldest child as beneficiary and contingent beneficiary of his estate, respectively. That all sounds well and good except Hoffman had two other children. The will effectively left out the two younger children unless their mother or brother share their inheritance.

Rather than just naming his oldest child, Hoffman could have added, “My children include [name of oldest] and any other children of mine born or adopted hereafter.”

Princess Diana

A day after she signed her will, Princess Diana penned a Letter of Wishes stating that three quarters of her chattels, personal property, be given to her sons while the remaining one quarter be distributed to her godchildren. Seemed simple and to the point…but it wasn’t.

Princess Diana’s Executors requested a Variance to the estate. The first part changed the age of inheritance for her sons from 25 to 30 years old. The second variance changed the inheritance of the godchildren from the estate from one quarter of the value to one item from the estate.

Words Matter.

The Letter of Wishes was ignored by the court because it lacked language required by British law. Essentially, the Executors were given full discretion over whether to honor Princess Diana’s wishes or not. They chose not to and instead filed the Variance.

In each of these examples a few words could have made the difference in how assets were distributed. When done properly, assets are distributed the way you intended and not to whom the probate judge deems eligible to receive them. To avoid discrepancies, we recommend using an estate planning attorney.

If you’re interested in learning more about the importance of estate planning, make an appointment with Stuart & Blackwell today.