If you've seen other people's wills, you may think that yours needs to be a long document. Whether I am drafting them or witnessing them on behalf of others, each will is its own document and its own length. I've been a witness to 2-page wills and I've drafted wills that are more than 70 pages. So when people ask me how long does their will need to be in Minnesota, the answer is that there's no set requirement for the length of a will. In fact, in Minnesota, the law only requires three things for a will to be valid:
- It has to be in writing;
- Has to be signed by the person making the will; and
- It has to be witnessed and signed by at least two other people.
You'll notice there's nothing in there about how long the will has to be, how many pages, how many terms that have to be written up in the will. So you can have a very short will, you can have a very long will.
Why Are Wills So Long?
The question a lot of my clients will ask is:
Why are wills so long?
The first thing we have to look at is that each will is different. The longest will that I have drafted was about 85 pages, but that doesn't mean yours has to be that length. Unless you are blindly downloading wills for a website, it's important to remember that each individual will is different and it's unique to you.
If you have children, we want to make sure we have the right provisions for your children. It'll make it a little bit longer, but if they're under 18, we have to have a guardianship provision. We want to have a trustee as well to manage their money. We can even set up a trust within your will, which is called a testamentary trust. If you want to give specific gifts to specific people, you want to leave money to certain charities, you want to leave your classic car to your brother, these kinds of things need to be in the will and they can make it a little bit longer.
And if you're in a state like Minnesota, where we have something called informal probate, well, you want to make sure you have that provision in your will as well so that your estate can be run through the informal probate system and not the formal one. So depending on what state you're in, this can be a huge time saver. If you're in New York, their probate court (called Surrogate's Court) does not have an informal probate procedure. The probates there can take a long time, there are a lot of fees and there can be a lot of headaches involved.
So when it comes to your will, you can choose how long or short you want to make it. What I found is that some single folks who would think they want a really basic, straightforward will, end up with really long complicated wills because they have family members and others who we need to make sure are correctly identified. And then I have business owners who deal with complex business transactions on a daily basis, who say you know what, just give me the simplest will you have. They deal with complexity at work and just want something basic.
Don't Use a Generic Website Will
Whichever level of complexity you are looking for, your estate planning attorney can help you get the right form for you. Do-It-Yourself wills are not a good idea. You go online and look for a short will, but you don't know what you're leaving out. Why is that will so short? Is there a provision they left out? If you're in Minnesota and you download a will from a different state, maybe it doesn't have the informal probate option.
Other people go looking for the longest will they can find online, thinking that the longer the better. It's got everything in it. Which it may, but you may not need everything and you may end up with a lot more than you need. And one of those things may end up getting in the way of what you're trying to accomplish. So instead of doing it that way, let's work with the professionals in your life. Talk to a financial advisor, talk to your accountant, work with an attorney to create an estate plan, and create a will that is designed for you and your family.
If you're ready to get started, let's set up a Legal Strategy Session and we can have a quick phone call to discuss where you are in the planning process and give you some next steps to get started.