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What you can and cannot include in your will

The will is the most important document in your estate plan. Without a valid will that a probate judge can accept, your final wishes for the distribution of your assets may not be carried out. Instead, Florida’s intestacy laws will take over and determine who will inherit your estate.

Few people want this to happen, so it is important that they get their will done the right way. This is best accomplished by working with an estate planning attorney who can help them avoid common errors.

Things to keep out of your will

One common mistake that people who try to write their will themselves make is to include things that are not allowed or unnecessary. Examples include:

  • Trying to bequeath certain property, such as property you own in joint tenancy. When you pass away, your joint tenant (often your spouse) automatically takes over your share of the property. This supersedes whatever you put in your will. Similarly, the proceeds of your life insurance policy and retirement plan do not pass through probate.
  • Placing certain conditions on gifts. Some conditions, such as making someone an heir if they graduate college, are allowed. But others, such as not bequeathing an heir unless they change religions or their marital status, are not.
  • The probate court will allow gifts to pets. Animals cannot legally own property. An alternative is to bequeath the pet to someone you trust to care for it, along with funds to pay for its care.
  • Wishes for your funeral or other ceremony marking your death should not go into your will. Most families handle funeral arrangements before estate administration proceedings begin, so they are unlikely to see your will in time. Instead, let your loved ones know your wishes ahead of time.

Your lawyer will advise you what should go into your will and what is best accomplished in other ways.


Christine S. Cook has earned a reputation in the legal community for her professionalism and among her clients for the care and personal attention she gives to every case.

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