When it comes to wills, people can get rather creative – and sometimes vindictive – with their provisions. Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry famously asked for his ashes to be sent into space. Shakespeare, perhaps confirming what was thought to be an unhappy marriage, left his wife their “second best bed.” A very lonely Portuguese man picked 70 random heirs out of the Lisbon phone book. There’s even a Michigan example: Tycoon Wellington Burt was so annoyed with his immediate family he stipulated they couldn’t access his considerable fortune until 100 years after his death.
Controlling the Uncontrollable
While the above examples might sound strange, they likely come from the same impulse we all share: controlling what happens after we die. Death is, after all, the ultimate uncontrollable fact of life. So, it’s understandable that people would feel compelled to have some say in what happens after they pass away.
A trust or will, though, is not a one-size-fits-all document and there are often very good reasons to have what seem, at first glance, to be unusual provisions. Some to consider include:
- Special Needs Trusts: One of the biggest worries parents or guardians of individuals with disabilities have is ensuring their loved one is protected after they die. Simply leaving money or property is not the answer, however, as it can affect the individual’s eligibility for Supplementary Security Income and Medicaid. To avoid this, consider setting up a special needs trust.
- Pet Care Trusts: Our pets are part of the family and, understandably, people want to ensure their beloved furry friend will be cared for if their owner passes away. A pet care trust will make sure this happens.
- Access to Digital Assets: Social media accounts. Password-protected digital documents. Online bank accounts. So much of our lives today involve digitally stored information. This is why it is very important to include language regarding access to digital assets in the modern trust or will. It will make sure your digital affairs are in order, along with everything else.
- Trust and Will Contest Deterrents: Few people would want their heirs squabbling over the provisions of a will – or contesting what they’ve carefully laid out. For this reason, many wills contain a so-called “no-contest clause” that provides penalties – including being disinherited – for anyone challenging the will. Probate courts vary in whether or not they accept such clauses, however, and they must be worded carefully. Even then, there is no guarantee a no-contest clause will be enforced.
Beware “Anti-Social” Provisions
There are unusual trust and will provisions – and then there are anti-social will provisions. The former will likely survive a court challenge. Courts, however, take a dim view of overly vindictive trust or will provisions. They will, for example, often allow disinherited immediate family members to contest a will if it is clear they were removed out of spite.
The Best Trust or Will Is a Tailored Trust or Will
In the end, the best trust or will is one that is unique to the individual, drafted with care and attention. It should include provisions that take into consideration a person’s specific wishes for what happens to their estate and loved ones after they die.