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Words Have Meaning in Your Estate Planning

By Lane V. Erickson, Idaho Estate Planning Attorney

The number one reason I encourage everyone to meet with a qualified and experienced estate planning attorney when doing their own estate plan is because words matter. The words and phrases you use, particularly when they have a specific legal meaning, directly impact what happens, both while you are alive and when you die. Because of this, sometimes a person’s plan does something that the person would not have wanted if they had understood it.

When correctly done, estate planning allows you to make all the decisions about what happens to you while you are alive and where your money, property, and other assets go after you die. In other words, you are in control of these decisions through your last will and testament, durable power of attorney, living will, and power of attorney for health care, which are the documents that create the basic estate plan everyone should have. You may also need one or more trusts to accomplish what you want.

When a person doesn’t understand the legal terms and phrases that are often used in these kinds of documents, and they create these documents themselves, or find them on the Internet or through some type of software, unintended consequences often happen as a result. Because of this, we encourage you to consult with an attorney to help you get your estate plan done correctly.

If you aren’t sure where to start, we encourage you to download our free Estate Planning Questionnaire. This is a pdf document that you can type into which allows you to gather the information together you need to make decisions about what you want to accomplish through your plan. We then offer a free 30-minute consultation to review your Questionnaire with you so we can understand who your family members and loved ones are, and what you want to accomplish.

The attorneys in our premier estate planning team know and understand the legal meaning of words used in estate planning documents. We can use our knowledge to help you accomplish what you want to do.

Words Used in Your Will

The words used in a last will and testament have specific meanings. Do you want your money and property to go equally to all your children? If one of your children predeceases you would you want their share of your estate to go to their children (your grandchildren)? Or, alternatively, would you prefer that only your surviving children receive your estate?

Do you have a situation where it is possible that a portion of your estate could go to a minor aged child? Or, do you have a family member or loved one who has a disability or a handicap of some sort? Additionally, do you have a family member or loved one who suffers from an addiction or other self-destructive behavior? Also, who would you want your estate to go to if all the beneficiaries you have named die before you?

Each of these situations require the use of specific words and phrases so that your instructions and intentions are carried out. Without using the right specific words things may go differently than you intended.

Even if you have completed your own estate plan by yourself, we encourage you to contact us for a free 30-minute consultation so we can review your plan and make sure it will actually accomplish what you wanted to do.

Words Used in Your Life Insurance

Similarly, when it comes to your life insurance, the words you use in the beneficiary for will also have specific meeting. For instance, if you say you want your life insurance to go to your spouse, and then you name who your spouse is, things may change if you divorce your spouse before you die. Because Idaho is a community property state, certain statues would apply to remove your divorced spouse as the beneficiary of your life insurance. However, if you intend for that person to continue to receive your life insurance even though you are no longer married to them, the word you use need to evidence that this is your intention.

Additionally, if you have named secondary or contingent beneficiaries, such as your children, you need to describe exactly how your life insurance proceeds will be divided. If the form you use has legal phrases such as “or to their issue by right of representation”, or “per stirpes”, or “per capita”, these all have specific meaning about what will be done.

Words Used in Your Retirement Accounts

Like life insurance, you are also given an opportunity to declare who you want your retirement account money to go to after you die. Because the administration company who is holding your account has a contractual obligation to do exactly what you say, they do not care whether your intentions on the form are described accurately or not. All they care about is whether there is an instruction that they are required to follow. When there is an instruction, they are contractually bound to follow it even if it does not do what you wanted it to do.

When it comes to estate planning, words have meaning. We do not expect our clients to have a perfect understanding of how all the documents and forms work. Rather, our goal is to use our skill and expertise in helping our clients accomplish what they want. For this reason, if you have questions about either creating an estate plan, or reviewing the estate plan you already have, we encourage you to use our free Questionnaire, and to contact us for a free 30-minute consultation. We have helped numerous clients make sure that their plan accomplishes what they want. We are confident that we can help you too!

Enlist an Idaho Estate Planning Attorney to Help You

Our team of Idaho lawyers can help you with any of your estate planning or probate needs. Whether you are seeking to create or review an estate plan for yourself or would like to help a loved one, we are available to discuss your options and answer your questions at an initial free 30-minute consultation. Call us toll free at 877.232.6101 or 208.232.6101 for a free consultation. You can also email us directly at or stop by our office at 201 East Center Street, Pocatello, Idaho 83201. We will answer your questions and help you solve your Idaho Estate Planning problems.

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