The term “simple will” is heard often, and usually implies that someone does not think their estate is big enough or complex enough to warrant any planning.
However, the size or complexity of an estate does not seem to matter, for people who are set on a “simple will” range from very poor to very rich, with minimal family problems to complex family dynamics.
Recently, we finished handling a $2 million estate administration case where a 2-page will was the basis of the estate plan. The estate took over 2 years to settle due to acrimony and battling, and a vague term in the will that the beneficiaries argued about. So much for a “simple will” — I doubt that the testator of the will thought her relatives would argue about her estate, as she probably thought that there wasn’t much to argue about with a 2-page Last Will & Testament.
It is our view that a will and estate plan does not have to be complex, but it has to be thorough and comprehensive, addressing the realities of your family situation, the legacy you want to leave behind, and the current laws and regulations that govern estate planning.
For instance, we had a case recently where an individual had a $500,000 IRA and insisted on a simple will, nothing else. First, we told him that his IRA wouldn’t be covered under his will and that his daughter (who he said was financially irresponsible) could terminate the “stretch IRA” benefits immediately and have no asset protection. You see, his daughter may cash out the IRA and have maybe $250,000 left. If she were forced to stretch the IRA out, she might get several million dollars over her lifetime! Big difference. Second, we told him that a will does not cover what happens if he becomes incapacitated, so he needs powers of attorney. Finally, what about long-term care planning? Long-term care is one of those hidden icebergs when it comes to estate planning. Long-term care costs are rising faster than inflation, and if you wish to preserve your estate for your loved ones, strategic planning is required that cannot be done through a simple will.
Estate planning is more than just the legal documents (will, trust, powers of attorney, etc.) that are prepared for you. It’s the thought, custom design and strategy that goes into the planning. At the end of the day, the legal documents should be a function of that thoughtfulness and strategy. They shouldn’t simply be a means to an end. If that’s the case, your plan is probably upside down.
No matter if you have little assets or are part of the ultra-wealthy, you deserve a thoughtful estate plan. Don’t succumb to the idea that you only need a simple will — for you, it may be simple, but what about your loved ones?