Advice on Handling Specific Bequests in Wills

The Supreme Court of Montana recently affirmed a judgment by the district court distributing assets from a trust established by a husband and wife to the couple’s three children. 


The district court had interpreted the trust creator’s handwritten codicil as a wish and not a specific bequest of the woman’s stock in a company that the couple had created and grown. Before the husband’s death in 1993, the couple executed identical wills under which the assets of the first spouse to die  passed into a trust with the assets in the trust intended to be distributed equally between the three children of the surviving spouse. 


As a result of the Supreme Court’s decision that the codicil was lacking in testamentary intent to specifically devise shares, this specific bequest was not passed on. 


Utilizing specific bequests in estate plans can be a helpful way of making sure that you successfully pass on property to your heirs. While the often-cited downside to specific bequests is that a parent might be required to change estate plans more often, some people decide that it is regardless the best method to pass on assets to loved ones. 


Fortunately, if you decide to use specific bequests, there are several strategies that you can follow to reduce the risk of potential problems. 


# 1 – Routinely Review Your Estate Plan


If you utilize specific bequests, it is a wise idea to review your estate planning documents at least once a year. Failure to keep estate planning documents adequately updated can result in beneficiaries becoming disinherited because the assets left to them are no longer part of the deceased person’s estate. 


Hopefully routine reviews of an estate plan, however, provide a person with adequate opportunities to make sure that property passes according to their wishes. 


# 2 – Anticipate the Beneficiary’s Death


If you decide to pass on specific bequests, you should make sure that your estate planning documents include provisions on how specific bequests should be handled in case the intended beneficiary does not survive you. If you would like certain assets to remain within your immediate family, it might be a good idea to create a trust. 


# 3 – Be Cautious about Language


You should exercise the highest degree of caution when it comes to the language that is used in your will and other estate planning documents regarding distribution. Your residuary estate is handled properly or several undesirable situations can occur. 


Your residuary estate might not include language that it will include finances from specific bequests that are sold before death. Fortunately, an experienced estate planning lawyer can help you review your estate planning document and determine any potential complications in the language that is used. 


Talk to a Skilled Estate Planning Attorney


Creating a successful estate plan involves several choices including whether or not to use a specific bequest. 

If you need the assistance of an experienced estate planning lawyer, do not hesitate to contact Ettinger Estate Planning today to schedule a free initial consultation.

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