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Wills can't do everything: Know your estate law options

Wills can be very powerful legal documents, and when properly written, they can help you convey your wishes about your estate, assets and beneficiaries when you can no longer do so. But wills can't do everything, and they can't even do a lot if they fail to consider the law or all the details involved in estate litigation. For this reason, working with an experienced estate law professional helps you better protect your heirs and beneficiaries.

Understanding what wills don't do is also a good step toward protecting your heirs. First, know that wills can't limit how beneficiaries use assets. If you want to ensure your minor children use portions of your estate to cover college costs, it's not enough to say so in your will. You'd have to set up a trust to provide such limitations on asset use, and even then, the law doesn't let you completely restrict use in some cases.

A will doesn't always keep your heirs out of probate, and it certainly doesn't help anyone avoid estate taxes. A will does make probate processes easier on your heirs, though, and it can help heirs and estate administrators understand the true value of all assets so they can more easily deal with tax issues. If you are looking for tax benefits in estate planning, then consider asking your attorney about trusts.

Finally, despite sitcom plots to the contrary, a will can't transfer your property to a beloved pet. Pets don't have the legal right to own property. You can, however, make arrangements for assets to be used to care for pets. Often, this is handled by creating a trust for this purpose and putting someone in charge of the pet and the assets.

Source: Nerd Wallet, "Write a Will," accessed April 22, 2016

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