There are many stories and myths about wills, and if you are thinking of creating a will, you should know a bit about the truth of these documents. Many of the myths are based on film or television depictions of will readings, while others are simply common misconceptions passed about among people. Here's a quick look at some pervasive myths and the truth behind them:
Myth: There's always a reading of the will.
Truth: In reality, there is hardly ever a reading of the will. A few generations ago, some estate lawyers may have gathered family members in their office to read a will, but it is not something that normally happens in everyday life. Now, if you want an estate lawyer to read the will aloud to your heirs, they may be willing to accept the task in exchange for a fee, but that's a definite exception to the rule.
Myth: The will can have conditions.
Perhaps, you've heard a story like, "At the reading of my will, if anyone complains, they will lose their inheritance and receive nothing." If you've heard anything like that, it's probably a family myth or an empty threat. A will is simply a document that states how an individual wants their assets disbursed. A will cannot include conditions on who receives what.
If you want to distribute your assets conditionally, you need to set up a trust. A trust is basically a third-party that holds your estate and handles its distribution. You can work a variety of conditions into a trust. For example, you could establish a schedule where heirs receive certain distributions at regular intervals, but you could add conditions where heirs don't receive the disbursement if they haven't meet certain expectations. For instance, if an heir has not completed uni by a certain point, they may receive fewer funds, or something along those lines.
Myth: You can leave your estate to anyone.
Truth: This is a bit of a sticky issue. Yes, you can write a will that leaves your assets to whomever you like. However, based on the law in many states, there are a number of people who can legally contest your will. This includes your spouse, children, a de-facto partner and even grandchildren and close friends. Additionally, if you have any estranged children, they too may be able to make a claim to the will.
If a claim is successful, the claimant is given a certain part of your estate as determined by the courts. However, there are tools to help you strengthen your will against claims, such as working with an estate attorney to create a formal and enforceable will.