What Are the Limitations of a Will?


A will is the most common type of estate planning document, but it's not a perfect solution for every issue. Like any other legal document, wills are subject to certain limitations.

A will can generally not be used to distribute:

  • Property owned in joint tenancy with someone else
  • Property owned as community property with right of survivorship by your spouse
  • Any asset held in Transfer-on-Death or TOD form, such as stocks or bonds
  • Proceeds of a life insurance policy that already has a beneficiary
  • Pension plan, IRA, or other retirement plan accounts that have beneficiaries named via forms provided by the plan administration

Here are some other things that you can't do in your will:

  • Leave gifts contingent on specific conditions, such as requiring someone to marry or divorce in order to receive an inheritance
  • Leave money directly to your pets
  • Leave money to a child without a guardian to oversee the gift
  • Leave money for an illegal purpose

If you want to leave money to a person with a disability that prevents him or her from living independently, this should be done via a trust instead of your will. A trust allows someone to distribute the money for the care of the disabled person without jeopardizing his or her eligibility for important government benefits.

Although you can technically leave funeral instructions as part of your will, this is not recommended. Wills are often not read until several weeks after the death of the testator. This is far too late for funeral instructions to be followed. If you have specific requests for the disposition of your body and memorial service arrangements, this should be addressed in a separate document that your executor can easily access when it is needed.

How Can We Help?

If you have questions about the role of a will and the other estate planning alternatives available to you, please call our office at (626) 683-8113 or email us at info@PasadenaLawOffice.com. Our Pasadena estate planning firm can help ensure that you are protected no matter what the future holds.