Never Include These 2 Things in Your Will, Experts Warn

You could cause a seriously heartbreaking situation after your passing.

Creating a will is one of life's least enjoyable activities. Not only does it force you to contend with your own passing, but it also requires you to consider how your loved ones will move on after you're gone. Regardless of how uncomfortable that is, it's a necessary step to ensure your estate is handled in the way you see fit. Unfortunately, there are several common missteps people make when estate planning that can lead to unwanted results. Read on to discover the two things you should never include in your will, as well as what to substitute instead.

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Never include a conditional gift in your will.

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A conditional gift is when money or property is gifted only when and if a specific event takes place. For example, a grandparent might leave a conditional gift for their grandchild if they graduate college or get married. However, these provisions—which are often drafted in the hopes of encouraging or discouraging certain behaviors—have a tendency to get messy.

Eido Walny, founder of estate planning and asset protection law firm Walny Legal Group LLC, notes even the seemingly basic condition of graduating from college can turn into a minefield. "What if the beneficiary decides to pursue the trades, certainly an honorable and profitable decision?" says Walny. "What if the beneficiary accelerates in college and is offered an excellent job before graduating?"

Similar roadblocks—and, often, creative workarounds from beneficiaries who want to unlock their inheritance—will also be encountered with other conditional gifts. So, you may want to skip them entirely.

Instead, create a trust.

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There are still ways to achieve the spirit of the conditional gift without getting the law involved. "You may instead gift the bequest outright, with no condition but including the encouragement that the beneficiary does something specific," says Marcus O'Toole-Gelo, a partner at the law firm Cona Elder Law.

Another option would be to hold the gift in a trust for your beneficiary. "By creating a trust for them, you can name a trustee to be in charge of it after your death, who can have discretion as to the timing and amount of distributions," says O'Toole-Gelo. "You can also specify how narrow or broad that discretion should be."

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Be careful with dollar amount bequests.

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The second thing you should never include in your will is a dollar amount bequest. While it might seem common, it's not recommended—and could cause a massive rift in the family.

Walny tells one such horror story. "Several years ago I had a case where a woman had two children: the do-gooder child who took care of Mom in her old age and a less well-intentioned second child," he says. "When drafting the bequest of her reasonably sized estate, Mom left $50,000 to the second child with the balance to the first child, who at the time would have taken significantly more. Unfortunately, due to circumstances, the estate was only worth about $75,000 by the time the bequests were doled out."

In the end, the children got wildly different amounts than the mother had anticipated.

Instead, use percentages.

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Fortunately, there's an easy way to avoid such nightmares. "I generally recommend that bequests be done as a percentage of the total estate, rather than as a dollar amount," says Walny. That way, your estate will self-correct for size and each beneficiary will get their proper share.

Of course, each will is specific to the person who creates it. To ensure yours is done properly, meet with a trusted professional to create a will that benefits you and your loved ones—without any unexpected snafus.

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Juliana LaBianca
Juliana is an experienced features editor and writer. Read more
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