Limits of a Will

Many people believe that leaving a will and testament means that all the last whims, wishes, and bequests in a person’s final days will be honored, by the law if not by family members. However, there are many limits to what a will will and will not do. If you are relying on your will as an ironclad statement of what will and won’t happen after your death, you may be disappointed. If it’s important to you that certain wishes be followed, make sure you know what exactly a will can accomplish and what it will not.

You May Not Dictate Funereal Arrangements

Many people believe that putting funereal requirements in their will makes it so that they cannot be countermanded. However, most wills are not even read (or found) for weeks or months after a person’s death. A funeral, obviously, is held much earlier than this. For specific instructions regarding your last rites, make sure to leave a separate document detailing your requests with your lawyer or family members, especially those that will be handling the disposal of your remains. Otherwise, your last wishes might not even be known until long after the funeral is over.

You May Not Leave Conditional Gifts

Most people are forgiven for believing the lie of this matter, since Hollywood uses it as a convenient plot device for wacky comedy movies. However, there are certainly limits to the kind of conditions you can put on a gift left in your last will. For example, the old hijinks-filled plot that a rascal grandson must marry in order to get his hands on a small fortune is completely illegal. It is not possible for you to leave money that is conditional on a recipient getting married. It is also illegal to leave gifts conditional on someone getting divorced or changing religion.

However, there are certain conditions you are allowed to leave in your will. These include such conditions as going to college, starting a business, etc. What you must understand is that in order for your orders to be carried out, someone will have to continue to execute your will. Unless you leave enough money for your lawyer to continue to enforce these conditions, the money will likely pass from your sphere of influence.

You May Not Pass On Certain Properties

There are certain kinds of property that you cannot leave to anyone in your will. For example, you cannot pass on any property held by you in joint tenancy. Upon your death, that property will become the sole property of the surviving party. You also cannot pass on property you have transferred already to a living trust, or the proceeds of a life insurance policy for which you have named a beneficiary.

There are other kinds of money that you cannot pass on, as well. These include stocks and bonds held in beneficiary accounts, and money that is held in a retirement or pension plan when you’ve already named a beneficiary with your account administrator before death.