Everybody knows more or less what a will is and what it does. And most people also think that a will ensures that their assets go where they want after they’ve died.
Since a will is an important part of any estate plan, you may feel tempted to save some money and write one yourself. There are, after all, hundreds of fill-in-the-blank wills available online. Oftentimes, these do-it-yourself wills are either inexpensive or free of charge.
Arkansas Doesn’t Accept Every Will
While that may seem like a good deal, it isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. A will, after all, doesn’t become ironclad just because it’s been written out and signed. Arkansas, like every other state in the country, has a specific set of rules for what makes a will valid and self-proved. At the bare minimum, a will is only legally binding if both of the following are true:
- You signed the will in the presence of at least two witnesses
- Both witnesses signed the will
Your witnesses should be people you didn’t name as heirs or beneficiaries in your will because you must have at least two signatures from impartial or “disinterested” witnesses.
If your will doesn’t meet these requirements, Arkansas will treat you as if you died intestate—in other words, as if you’d never written a will at all. This can cost your estate and your loved ones untold worry and the money you want them to have.
Wills Aren’t Foolproof Even When They’re Valid
Something that surprises a lot of people is the fact that a will isn’t really a “supreme” document: if your will clashes with other financial arrangements, there’s no guarantee your last wishes will be carried out.
Let’s say, for instance, that you have a stock portfolio or bond account with a transfer-upon-death arrangement. Maybe you named your spouse as a beneficiary but later got divorced. Even if your will specifies that that portfolio or those bonds go to your current spouse or your children, the transfer-upon-death arrangement supersedes whatever else you’ve written.
While you may be able to avoid these mistakes with care and study, you may need more than a standalone will to protect your assets.
Considering Your Alternatives
Any attorney worth their salt will tell you that a will isn’t really the ultimate estate planning tool—it’s a piece of paper that serves a specific set of purposes. For many people, especially people who own homes or other valuable assets, a will is not the best way to parcel up an estate after death.
Because if you leave your house to an heir in a will, the house will have to go through Arkansas probate; and if you leave money to your children in a will, there’s a chance old creditors may claim all or most the funds you’d wanted your loved ones to receive.
You may be better off establishing a trust, which can help you protect your assets from probate while permitting you to control their use and eventual disbursal. Similarly, tenancy arrangements and beneficiary designations can ease the transition of assets.
Just like wills, you can figure out how to set up a trust through easily available public resources. However, trusts are even more complex than wills: there are living trusts, revocable trusts, irrevocable trusts, and more. If you set up the wrong type of trust, you could lose access to your assets or may be prohibited from profiting off their full value.
Contact Us to Get Started
If you own a home, hold stocks, or keep valuable bonds, you need to consider your options beyond a will.
One thing’s for sure, though: you don’t want to write your own will without expert guidance. To get that, and to explore your best estate planning options, send us a message or give us a call today. We’ll give you the time your estate demands while working to provide you with the best solutions for your unique needs.