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Why Specificity Means A Lot In Estate Planning

When an estate planning attorney has a client sign documents, they always strive to be as specific as possible in the terms of the estate. It's hard to overstate just how important specificity is to the estate planning process. Let's look at several reasons why this matters so much.

The Possibility of Probate

Although probate gets an unfair rap sometimes, having an estate end up in probate is generally not the goal. One of the easiest arguments for asking a judge to review the details of an estate is a lack of specificity. If someone's will states that they'd like all of the proceeds to go to charities that help animals, for example, that's probably not going to be specific enough to avoid probate. The court will have to review evidence regarding what sorts of charities would best match the grantor's wishes for the assets.

It's best to be as specific as possible. Within that framework, it's also wise to have specific plans for what happens if a beneficiary can't collect on an estate. For example, a named charity might have gone under before the decedent had a chance to name a new one as a beneficiary. It's wise for someone aiming to donate their estate to charity to name several in case one or two ceases operations.


Many estates are designed to protect the interests of folks who the decedent leaves behind. If you're worried, for example, that your spouse will need money to pay for medical care, the prudent move is to implement a trust while you're alive. The trust will cost a bit more money to maintain, but assets can move into it immediately upon you're passing. Doing so ensures those assets will get to your spouse as quickly as possible, putting them on steadier financial ground.


If an executor isn't available to handle the estate, the court will appoint an administrator. This means you'll want to identify a specific executor. Likewise, you'll also want to name at least one successor in case the executor dies, is incapacitated, or is otherwise unable to do the job.

Stating Your Will

When a court has questions about the intent of an estate, they will first refer to the most recent valid documents. Generalizing about any issue invites trouble. When doing estate planning, always strive to be painfully specific. Do so even if it borders on patronizing. It's better to pound a point a little too hard than to risk your will not being clear.