Clients frequently ask if we can just set up a simple will for them. They don’t have a whole lot and they don’t want anything fancy or complicated. Although we certainly could draw up a “simple will” for someone, the result of doing that type of planning is not the outcome most people want.
A will is a document that sets out your wishes for who you want to wrap up your affairs and who you want to receive what assets when you’re gone. This is a desirable outcome—you want to make these specifications and make sure your estate is handled the way you would like. What is not desirable, however, is that a will is actually a document designed to go to probate court—the legal procedure for transferring assets after you die. Probate in Arkansas is time-consuming, approximately seven months to a year, sometimes longer; it’s expensive, approximately three to five percent of the value of the estate; and it’s public, everything that’s filed with the court is a matter of public record. This is the outcome even if you only have a $150,000 home, a $2,000 bank account, and a car. The will does not avoid probate court, and in fact, is written in anticipation of it.
Another reason you don’t want a “simple will” is that simple wills don’t plan for unknown but possible circumstances. Part of the reason it is important to see an estate planning attorney to prepare your documents is that they plan for circumstances you don’t necessarily expect but that could happen. For example, what happens if one of your children dies before you do? What if one of your children is receiving government assistance when you die? What if your child is going through a divorce at the time of your death? What if one of your beneficiaries is a minor at the time they are to receive an inheritance?
A little planning can go a long way to avoiding unnecessary costs, time wasted, and family stress.