Top 10 Items You Should Leave Out of Your Will

Your will is an essential tool for estate planning. But, it comes with limits you need to know. Understanding what not to include can ease the probate process and protect your asset distribution wishes. Leave out things like business interests, personal wishes, and plans for beneficiaries with special needs. This approach helps avoid complications and disputes, following estate planning attorney advice.

Creating an effective estate plan goes beyond just writing a will. It’s about listing assets, keeping beneficiary information current, and setting up ways to skip probate. These steps make sure your wishes are clearly understood and followed. This is crucial as seen in the cases of Aretha Franklin and Prince, who died without wills, facing problems.

This article explores the top 10 things to exclude from your will. Our goal is to guide you in making a plan that works seamlessly.

Key Takeaways

  • Exclude business interests to avoid lengthy probate processes.
  • Refrain from including personal wishes and desires in your will.
  • Avoid coverage for beneficiaries with special needs due to potential impacts on government benefits.
  • Consider alternative methods like trusts for specific types of properties.
  • Regularly update your estate plan and beneficiary designations.

Understanding Proper Inheritance Planning

Proper inheritance planning ensures your wishes are followed and legal issues are avoided after you die. Only one out of three Americans has an estate plan, says a 2023 survey from With the federal estate tax exemption at $13.61 million per person in 2024, it’s key to get legal help.

The Importance of a Comprehensive Estate Plan

A comprehensive estate plan is more than just a will. It looks deeply at your assets, debts, and your heirs‘ needs. Attorney fees range from $1,000 to $10,000, depending on the complexity of your estate. This cost shows why it’s important to know what to include and exclude in your will.

It’s smart to review your estate plan when big life events happen. Keeping your plan current ensures it matches your desires and keeps up with new laws.

Common Estate Distribution Considerations

Deciding how to distribute your assets can stop legal fights and financial issues. Trusts can lower estate taxes and skip probate. But, it’s important to know what not to put in your will to make things smoother.

In 17 states and D.C., estate or inheritance taxes may apply. For instance, Oregon taxes estates over $1 million, and Massachusetts starts at $2 million. Knowing state laws is crucial for your estate plan.

Trusts like Bypass Trusts or QTIP Trusts help couples dodge federal estate taxes. You should check your estate plan often to adjust to life or law changes.

The cost for estate planning varies. Online tools work for simple estates, but complex cases might need a lawyer’s help. Understanding what to include in estate planning can protect your heirs from legal or financial issues.

Business Interests and Your Will

Thinking about estate planning often misses one key area: including business interests in your will. It may seem smart to include everything. Yet, the details of running a business make this complex.

Why Business Interests Should Be Excluded

Adding business interests to your will can lead to unexpected problems. The probate process is lengthy and can disrupt the business. It’s also public, risking private business info being exposed. Knowing what to leave out of your will is vital for smooth business handovers.

Alternative Arrangements for Business Succession

There are ways to avoid these issues. Meeting with a lawyer who knows about business passing can help. They can guide you through options like trusts, buy-sell agreements, and succession plans. Using these can make handing over your business smoother and more private.

Consideration Traditional Will Alternative Structure
Timeline Subject to extended probate delays Immediate or planned transition
Privacy Public record Confidential structures (e.g., trusts)
Management Continuity Potential business interruptions Seamless transition plans

It’s important to make wise choices in estate planning. Understanding what to leave out of your will helps keep your business solid.

Personal Wishes and Desires

When making a will, it’s key to know not all personal wishes should go into it. Burial preferences and pet care are examples. They should be communicated through other ways for prompt action.

Efficient Alternatives for Conveying Personal Wishes

A letter of instruction is great for outlining personal preferences not covered by a will. This document can list assets and who manages them. It can also outline pet care instructions and personal wishes like funeral plans.

It complements a living will too. It’s where you share your ethical values with family.

Keep this letter updated and easy to find. Updating yearly reflects any new preferences or life changes, making inheritance matters simpler for heirs.

Legal Implications of Including Personal Desires

Adding personal desires to a will can cause legal issues and delays. This is due to the probate process. Wills are for asset distribution, and personal preferences can lead to complications.

It’s crucial to know what not to include in the will. Funeral or burial plans should go in a letter of instruction. This way, family and executors can act quickly. It clears the way for asset distribution while honoring your desires.

By using other methods for personal wishes, you reduce stress for loved ones. This approach makes estate planning smoother and kinder for your heirs.

Coverage for Beneficiaries with Special Needs

Estate planning for those with special needs is very important. It helps ensure they get the right care without losing government benefits. We’ll look at creating a special needs trust and its effects on benefits.

Setting Up a Special Needs Trust

A special needs trust is key to protect the financial health of disabled individuals. It also keeps their eligibility for government programs like Medicaid and SSI. It’s complex to set up, so getting help from an experienced attorney is wise. There are mainly two kinds of trusts to think about:

  • First-Party Special Needs Trusts: These are funded by the individual’s own money, like from lawsuits or inheritances.
  • Third-Party Special Needs Trusts: Usually created by family to help without using the beneficiary’s funds.

special needs trust

Both help with costs for more than just the basics, like medical care, fun activities, and school. Knowing how the trust money can be used is crucial to keep government aid.

Impact on Government Benefits

When planning an estate for those with special needs, it’s vital to think about benefits. If a person with disabilities has too much money, they could lose Medicaid and SSI. This is why a special needs trust is so valuable:

  1. Financial Security: The trust offers long-term financial safety and covers various expenses.
  2. Protection from Financial Abuse: Trust assets are protected from being wrongly used.
  3. Estate Planning Optimization: If the beneficiary dies early, the trust’s remaining money can go to charity or heirs.

Trustees need to carefully manage the trust money. They should work with special needs planners to keep the beneficiary’s government help safe.

Benefit With Special Needs Trust Without Special Needs Trust
Financial Security High Low
Protection of Assets Yes No
Continued Government Benefits Yes No

In summary, adding a special needs trust to your estate plan is key. It protects the future and well-being of those with special needs. This lets them keep vital benefits and ensures their financial security.

Avoiding Probate: What Not to Include

When planning your estate, knowing what not to include in your will is key. Probate can be long, taking six months to two years for an average estate. It can also be costly. Instead, transferring assets through other ways can help your beneficiaries get them faster and easier.

Just having a will does not skip probate. A living trust is more expensive initially than a will, but it saves money by avoiding probate. This is especially useful for larger or complex estates. With a trust, assets are managed and given out more smoothly, without the long legal steps that wills require.

Adding someone as a joint owner or beneficiary on accounts is another way to avoid probate. These approaches make getting assets quicker and easier for your beneficiaries. For instance, property owned jointly goes straight to the surviving owner, skipping probate.

Assets in a living trust don’t go through probate, unlike those in a will. Updating trust property is simple, needing only form changes, not more complex will changes. Bank and retirement accounts with named beneficiaries or payable-on-death instructions also go directly to those beneficiaries, avoiding probate.

Strategy Benefits
Living Trust Avoids probate, direct access to assets, cost-effective for large estates
Joint Tenancy Right of survivorship, bypasses probate, automatic transfer to joint tenant
Beneficiary Designations Direct transfer of assets, avoids probate, efficient beneficiary payouts
Payable-on-Death Accounts Funds transfer directly to named beneficiaries, bypasses probate

To summarize, using things like Living Trusts, joint ownership, and beneficiary designations makes transferring assets simpler. These methods let you avoid probate. Planning with these in mind ensures a quicker, easier way for your loved ones to receive their inheritance.

Top 10 Items Leave Out of Will

Knowing the top 10 items to leave out of a will is key in estate planning. It prevents problems and helps your heirs. Let’s explore why these items should be handled differently.

  • Business Interests: Including business ownership in a will can create legal complexities. Instead, consider setting up a business succession plan.
  • Personal Wishes: Personal desires, such as funeral arrangements or specific bequests of minor personal items, are better conveyed through a letter of instruction rather than a legally binding will.
  • Special Needs Provisions: Direct bequests to beneficiaries with special needs may affect their eligibility for government benefits. Establishing a special needs trust is a preferable alternative.
  • Probate-Averse Assets: Assets that are designed to avoid probate, such as retirement accounts and life insurance policies, should be left out of a will. They can be better managed through beneficiary designations.
  • Property Within Trusts: Any property already held within a trust should not be included in a will. Trusts are ideal for streamlining the property transfer process and avoiding probate.
  • Property with Designated Beneficiaries: Certain assets, like transfer-on-death accounts, should not be included in a will as they already have designated beneficiaries.
  • Jointly-Owned Property: For jointly-held property, the survivor gains full control over the asset. Thus, there’s no need to include such property in a will.
  • Pet-Related Assets: While you can suggest a caretaker for pet-related assets in a will, setting up a dedicated pet trust is more effective and legally secure.
  • Gifts with Special Conditions: Conditional gifts can be contested and create uncertainties. Using a trust to manage such conditions is a more reliable option.

Understanding will preparation guidance is crucial. It advises on reviewing assets and using trusts, beneficiary designations, and other tools. This makes sure your wishes are met and lessens the load on your heirs.

Jointly-Owned Property Considerations

Dealing with estate planning needs a close look at jointly-owned property. It’s key to know properties with rights of survivorship don’t go in a will. They pass directly to the other owner, skipping probate. This matters a lot in places with community property laws.

Community Property States and Wills

In states with community property laws, anything bought during marriage is owned by both spouses. If one spouse dies, the other gets the property, no matter what the will says. So, knowing these laws helps in planning your estate well.

Handling Jointly-Owned Assets

Managing jointly-owned assets needs a detailed plan for estate setups. Executors, chosen from two to four people, play a key role. They are especially important when disputes over shared property happen, often from not setting usage rights.

To manage these assets, it’s smart to divide income and expenses fairly, looking at what each person contributes. Treat extra contributions as loans or adjust how you share future gains. Co-owners need a clear plan. This should include a budget, how often contributions happen, and a savings plan for big repairs or updates. This avoids arguments and makes sure everyone is treated fairly.

Here’s a detailed table that goes over how to manage jointly-owned properties:

Consideration Details
Ownership Types Joint or Tenants in Common
Disparity in Contributions Allocate usage or income based on contributions
Future Service Contributions Plan for performance, cost-effectiveness, and timeliness
Income & Expenses Allocation Consider past and future contributions, usage rights, and depreciation risks
Formal Backup Plan Annual budget, pre-set contributions schedule, reserve for major repairs

Gifts with Conditions and Special: Instructions

When planning your estate, it’s key to clearly share your wishes. This is vital for gifts with conditions or special directions for those you leave behind. Wills are commonly used, but they can’t always enforce gift conditions well. This is where trusts prove valuable. They offer a controlled, enforceable way to handle conditional gifts and informal guidelines.

Using Trusts for Conditional Gifts

Trusts are perfect for setting up conditional gifts. They let you outline specific conditions and requirements the recipient must meet to get the assets. For example, a testamentary trust can ensure that minors or those with special needs are cared for as you wish. Trusts start working immediately and avoid probate court, making asset transfer smoother.

Creating a trust also makes sure asset transfer follows your exact instructions, making it hard to challenge. This offers a dependable way to keep your wishes intact.

Non-Legally Binding Letters of Instruction

Non-binding instructions are another useful estate planning tool. Though these letters aren’t legally binding, they offer valuable guidance to executors and heirs. They can add clarity to formal trust instructions, sharing your hopes for how assets are used or specific gift conditions.

Using both formal trusts and informal instructions can create a clear, full estate plan. This mix of legal and personal directions helps ensure your wishes are respected.

Wills Trusts
Becomes active upon death Active from day of creation
Subject to probate court Bypasses probate court
Can name guardians for minors Cannot name guardians
More likely to face legal challenges Less likely to face legal challenges
Information is part of the public record Not part of the public record
Less costly to establish and maintain More expensive to establish and maintain

This combined strategy makes sure all gifts with conditions and instructions are clear. It helps avoid disputes and confusion. By using trusts and informal letters, you can manage your estate as you wish, offering clear guidance to your beneficiaries.

Property Held Within a Trust

Trusts make inheriting property smoother, keeping it private and cutting down on disputes. Unlike wills that go through probate, trusts manage assets directly, avoiding the lengthy and expensive probate process.

Advantages of Trusts Over Wills

Bypassing probate is a big plus of trusts over wills. Assets like trust titles, life insurance, and retirement accounts go straight to beneficiaries. Even bank accounts with a payable on death designation skip probate.

Asset ownership with survivorship rights also evades probate, perfect for married couples. With a revocable living trust, you control your assets during your lifetime. This stays true even if you become incapacitated.

Avoiding Conflicts of Interest

Trusts lower the risk of estate conflicts. By setting clear rules for asset sharing, they prevent family arguments. Irrevocable trusts also keep large estates from federal taxes, crucial for assets over $12.92 million in 2023.

Trusts can be crafted for specific needs, like supporting disabled individuals without harming their benefits. They also safeguard assets from creditors and serve various purposes including care for minors, charity, and spouse support.

Using trusts clarifies your wishes and manages estate issues efficiently. This advantage helps in representing your legacy precisely and securely.


Estate planning and will preparation help make sure your assets go to the right hands after you’re gone. Understanding what not to include in your will is just as important. For instance, keep business interests, personal wishes, and jointly-owned properties out of it.

Instead, use trusts for a better legal approach. It’s very important to get advice from estate planning experts. They help protect your interests and those of your beneficiaries.

Also, updating your estate plan when big life changes happen is crucial. This keeps your plan up to date with your latest wishes. Making regular updates ensures it matches your current situation.

It’s not all about who gets what. It’s also guiding your loved ones when things get tough. These actions make resolving affairs easier, giving you and your heirs peace of mind.

Creating an effective will takes careful thought and planning. Don’t wait, start improving your estate plan today. Find professional advice, review your plan often, and make sure your instructions are clear. This will have a meaningful impact on your loved ones’ futures.


What are the top 10 items to leave out of your will?

Here are 10 things not to include in your will: business interests, personal wishes, and special needs plans. Also, avoid probate-averse assets, trust-held property, and items for designated heirs. Don’t list jointly-owned assets, pet care plans, conditional gifts, or funeral details.

Why is it important to have a comprehensive estate plan?

An estate plan makes sure your wishes are known and followed after you die. It prevents legal fights and eases the transfer of your belongings. This clarity is crucial for those you leave behind.

What should I consider in estate distribution?

Keep your legal papers up to date. Choose who gets what carefully. Know how taxes will affect your estate. Also, talk to an estate planning lawyer to avoid problems and costs for those inheriting.

Why should business interests be excluded from a will?

Putting business interests in your will can cause delays in passing it on because of probate. It’s better to plan ahead for who will take over your business to keep things running smoothly.

What are the alternative arrangements for business succession?

Consider setting up trusts and getting advice from an estate planning lawyer for your business. This can skip the probate step and cut down on disagreements later.

How can I effectively convey personal wishes without including them in my will?

Write down your personal wishes in a letter of instruction. This is not a legal document but helps your family understand your desires without complicating your will.

What are the legal implications of including personal desires in a will?

Putting funeral plans in your will can create delays, as the will might not be looked at in time. It’s better to keep these wishes separate for quick action.

How can I provide for beneficiaries with special needs?

Create a Special Needs Trust for support without risking their government benefits. It’s a good idea to get a lawyer to help set this up correctly.

What is the impact on government benefits for special needs beneficiaries?

Directly inheriting money can stop a special needs person from getting government help. A Special Needs Trust gives them money without losing benefits.

How can I avoid probate with my estate planning?

To skip probate, use trusts and name beneficiaries directly on accounts and properties. This makes the transfer of assets quick and simple.

What should I consider for jointly-owned property in my estate plan?

Property shared with someone else usually goes straight to them when you die. Keep in mind, rules in community property states mean assets are divided between spouses.

How can I handle conditional gifts in an estate later?

For gifts that come with conditions, use a trust. Add a letter of instruction for extra guidance. This ensures your exact wishes are clear and followed.

What are the benefits of holding property within a trust?

Trusts make passing on your assets faster and can stop family fights. They follow your exact directions, making sure your final wishes are respected.