At a will signing last week, we were having some after signing chat about the length of the will that the client was signing. I’ve written before about the bare minimum requirements for signing a will. But there is no requirement that a will be a certain length in order to be considered valid. You don’t need a minimum amount of pages. We don’t track the “word count” to make sure it’s enforceable. So, as my client asked, how long does my will need to be? The answer? As long (or short) as it takes to lay out your estate plan desires.
Why Are Wills So Long?
If it only has to be long enough to express your desires, why are wills so long? Some wills that I have drafted have been 3 pages long. Others can be nearly 100 pages long. The difference? What the client wants to do with their assets.
If you are a recent college graduate who hasn’t started a family yet, rents her apartment and is still looking forward to life’s voyage ahead of her, then you probably don’t need a complex and lengthy will. On the other hand, maybe you have lots of nieces and nephews and have some pretty cool artifacts from your adventures. You want to make sure they go to the right niece or nephew. So you want to make sure that is covered in your will.
I commonly find that middle-aged families tend to have longer wills. They have children to take care of. Maybe they own their house. Possibly they are in the sandwich generation and are taking care of their parents as well. For them, it seems like they constantly have 100 balls in the air to manage. Worrying about what will happen if they die is one ball we can take out of the juggling queue. To do that, however, usually will take a will with a bit more length.
In the end, it comes down to what you want your will to be. I’ve had clients come to me who don’t have much to put in their will. But they’ve seen their parents wills (or had to probate them). They’ve got a notion in their head that the length of the will is important. They want to plan for every contingency under the sun (in case they someday invest in oil rights in Oklahoma…). Since it is important to them, we can craft a lengthy will.
On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve had very sophisticated business clients who want simplicity when it comes to their will. The length of the will doesn’t matter. They deal with complexities all day in business and prefer something short and simple. It can sometimes be a challenge to keep the length of the will short, but if that is truly the desires of the client, we can find a way to get it to a manageable length.
Everyone has their own notion of how long they think a will should be. Maybe you think you need a long, involved will when a simple one will do. Or perhaps there are enough long documents in your life and you’d prefer something short and simple. However you’d like to approach it, rather than just downloading a form from a website and filling your name in, it’s always a better idea to speak with a professional who can help determine what you truly need.