Let’s Talk About Love*: Is a Simple “I Love You Will” Enough?

Many general legal practitioners will offer an “I love you will" to their married clients as a simple—and less expensive—means of estate planning. After all, simple sounds nice. And less expensive often gets people in the door. And who does not want to say, “I love you”? But sometimes an I Love You Will causes more strife later on if more individualized planning is not done.

What is an I Love You Will?

Traditionally, I Love You Wills are drafted as mirror-image wills for each spouse that leave everything to the other spouse with direct and short language. If the other spouse has already died, then everything goes to their children. The wills name a personal representative. And the wills should be executed with Florida’s formalities. (This means signed by the maker with two witnesses (and notarized in a self-proving affidavit to make things easier years later).) Simple, right?

Does an I Love You Will Work?

Remember that I Love You Wills focus on being simple. So in a simple situation, they can work well for clients. If you have an older couple with a long marriage and modest means, no other assets outside of a home, a car or two, and a retirement and bank account, solid long term care insurance coverage, and adult children with no grandchildren, this could work. But beware of thinking your situation is simple if you are not trained in estate planning. As the old saying goes, “If I had a nickel for every client who said his situation was simple . . . .” A will does not have to be incredibly complex, but it should address your particular situation.

What Problems Might Arise with an I Love You Will?

Client situations vary greatly. Too often, because it is that client’s world she has navigated for years, it seems completely natural and, thus, simple. But that does not translate to simple estate planning. Add in a small business partnership or a child from another marriage or an aging parent or a dependent sibling, and things leave being simple quite quickly. More over, if long term care planning is likely, a simple will could be detrimental to a spouse receiving government benefits if more careful planning is not done.

More problematic is that simple I Love You Wills do not take into account minor children. Thus, if anything is left to a minor child—or grandchild—provisions traditionally are not in the will to address that.

How to Avoid Problems with an I Love You Will?

In the right situation, an I Love You Will is fine. And it is almost always better than nothing. But to make sure your situation is well suited for such a will, talk to an attorney that focuses on estate planning. These attorneys understand better the complexities and pitfalls that can arise in an estate.

One of the biggest concerns clients voice to me are that they want to make sure things are easy for their family members after they die. This means we need to do careful planning up front. And sometimes, that is not simple. But that should make the process after their death much simpler. That is a great gift of love. Besides, even if your will does not turn out to be as simple as you thought it might, it does not have to cost thousands of dollars. And you can still say, “I love you.”

*From the similarly titled album by Modern Talking in 1985 to Celine Dion's album titled the same in 1997 and a variety of singles recorded by artists including Mindy McCready and The Gap Band, "Let's Talk About Love" has had a lot of use.

Attorney Jana McCreary

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Houston Estate Planning and Elder Law Attorney Jana R. McCreary has been an attorney for over seventeen years, a career move she made after working for over a decade with adults and children with intellectual disabilities and mental illness. Graduati… Read More

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