Elder law and estate planning attorneys often field inquiries from potential clients to draft a “simple will.”
These queries are sometimes borne out of a desire for cost-efficiency. In other cases, clients believe that they do not have a large enough estate to warrant high-end estate planning or that their families are not complicated enough to require any complex estate planning. In almost all cases, people ask for a “simple will” because they do not know all of the options available to them.
Clients who seek a “simple will” based on the size of their estate generally do not know all the options to protect their assets. Often an estate will be distributed the same way no matter how much money or property is in the estate.
Clients often suggest they need only a “simple will” because their family is not complicated by multiple marriages or children from other relationships. However, even with first marriages, a “simple will” may not meet a family’s estate goals for minor children.
For example, families who name just a guardian for minor children, as is common in “simple wills,” could be doing their children a disservice. If a minor child is a designated beneficiary on life insurance, retirement, and brokerage accounts, under a “simple will,” that child will be able to control that money at age 18. Not many clients believe their children are financially savvy enough to handle large sums at age 18. A “simple will” would not protect the assets for children.
When clients request a “simple will” in an effort to spend less, the request is akin to the old adage to either “pay now or pay later.” There are real costs associated with choosing a “simple will.” A “simple will” could cost an estate far more in probate expenses or in litigation fees if the will was not written with the client’s goals in mind. It, therefore, falls upon an attorney to offer options that meet both the financial and legal needs of a client.
In some cases, a “simple will” can be a useful tool for distributing an estate.
However, here are some examples of when a “simple will” may not be enough to meet a client’s legal goals: