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7 Things to Leave Out of Your Will, Experts Say

Don't let your last will and testament tear your family apart.

If the thought of writing your last will and testament fills you with dread, you're absolutely not alone: No one wants to confront their mortality or do heaps of paperwork. However, planning your estate is crucial to ensuring that your loved ones will be cared for after your eventual passing. For many people, completing the process can also bring important peace of mind. Unfortunately, there are several common missteps people make when estate planning and these can undermine or even invalidate your important last wishes. Read on to discover the seven things you should never put in your will to avoid both lost funds and family tensions.

RELATED: The 10 Most Important Things to Include in Your Will, Experts Say.

Conditional gifts

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A conditional gift is when money or property is gifted only when and if a specific event occurs. 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 to encourage or discourage certain behaviors—have a tendency to get messy.

Eido Walny, founder of estate planning and asset protection law firm Walny Legal Group, explains that 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?"

Instead, creating a trust for your beneficiary may be one way to provide the structure or oversight you want.

"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 Marcus O'Toole-Gelo, a partner at the law firm Cona Elder Law. "You can also specify how narrow or broad that discretion should be."

Dollar amount bequests

man writing in pad next to laptop

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 shares 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. 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. 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.

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Non-probate assets

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Assets that are co-owned or have designated beneficiaries cannot be controlled by your will. For example, if you and your spouse own a home, you can't bypass your partner's co-ownership to give the property directly to your children.

"When creating a will, it's important to leave out any non-probate assets such as life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and jointly-owned properties, as these automatically transfer to designated beneficiaries," says Tim Hurban, JD, owner and founder of the estate planning legal firm Hurban Law.

Funeral instructions

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Some people have specific wishes when it comes to their funeral arrangements—and you should absolutely make those wishes known to your loved ones. However, experts caution that your choice of flowers or preferred final resting place doesn't belong in your will.

"Because your will won't be read until a while after you've passed on, your loved ones most likely won't see your wishes regarding your funeral arrangements or burial until it's too late," points out Derek Jacques, JD, an estate planning attorney for The Mitten Law Firm. "Instead, you will want to outline these in a letter or some other type of document and leave it with a trusted family member or friend."

Digital assets

Bitcoin wallet on phone

You may have no trouble deciding what to do with your monetary or physical assets, but digital assets can be just as important—and more confusing to navigate. While digital investments in cryptocurrencies or non-fungible tokens (NFTs) should be listed in your will, it's important to manage access to those assets securely.

"Including private keys or recovery seed phrases in your will is dangerous, as anyone with access to these keys can steal your funds at any time," says Chris Seedor, founder of, a Bitcoin seed phrase storage company. "Instead, use modern cryptographic solutions such as a decaying multi-signature wallet. This allows access to your funds after a set period of inactivity, ensuring your loved ones can inherit your assets securely."

Seedor adds that this approach eliminates the need to share sensitive information with notaries or lawyers, maintaining control over your assets during your lifetime.

"You can even share the time-locked key with a potential heir now, and if you ever change your mind, you can void or modify the setup to designate a different beneficiary," he says.

Other digital assets should generally be shared in a separate document, which is often referred to as a digital wall, Jacques notes.

"Say you have special instructions for your social media or email accounts or subscription services; you shouldn't simply list them in your will," he says. "Instead, create a separate document with access instructions."

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Direct inheritance for beneficiaries with special needs

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If a beneficiary has special needs, it's important to consult with an estate planning professional to ensure that any inheritance they may receive won't interfere with government benefits. They may recommend setting up a separate Special Needs Trust (SNT), allowing a designated trustee to manage and distribute funds to supplement the beneficiary's care.

"Because eligibility for these public benefits is need-based, there are income limits," Oni Harton, JD, writes for FindLaw. "An individual with a disability whose total assets or monthly income are too high could be disqualified… Leaving them assets in a will or direct disbursements from a trust may disqualify them from these benefit programs by over-providing."

Personal sentiments or grievances

Affectionate senior woman smiling happily while embracing her husband by the ocean.

Finally, the experts also agree that your will is no place for airing grievances or expounding on the dynamics of your familial relationships.

"While in movies or on TV, seeing someone make petty remarks or harsh criticisms in their will might make for strong dramatic or comedic fodder, in reality, it will simply lead to anger and resentment among your heirs, and it could lead them to retaliate by contesting your will," says Jacques.

"A will is a legal document; personal sentiments or reasons for the distribution of your assets might be better placed in a separate letter," adds Adam Zuckerman, founder of Buried in Work, an eCommerce platform specializing in estate planning and end-of-life tasks.

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.

Best Life offers the most up-to-date financial information from top experts and the latest news and research, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. When it comes to the money you're spending, saving, or investing, always consult your financial advisor directly.

This story has been updated to include additional entries, fact-checking, and copy-editing.

Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more