But putting conditions in a will is often a bad idea, says Betsy Hannibal, senior legal editor at Nolo, a self-help legal site. Some conditions — such as requiring someone to marry, divorce, or change religions — aren’t legally enforceable because they’re considered contrary to public policy, Hannibal says.
“Such clauses would include conditional gifts that try to control recipients’ protected individual freedoms, like their marital status or religious beliefs, as well as gifts that would require the recipient to do something illegal,” she says.
Other conditions are simply unwieldy. Someone must oversee the bequest and decide when the conditions are met, which might be difficult or take a long time, she says.
If you want to impose conditions, consider paying for an attorney to set up a trust rather than using a will. Expect to spend $2,000 or more, Hannibal says. You’ll need to appoint a trustee, who may need to be paid from the trust for their services. Also, when the money is in the trust, it can be subject to high trust tax rates. Only you can decide if putting strings on an inheritance is worth the extra cost.
Another time to use a trust is when you want to leave money to someone with special needs who is receiving government benefits. Even a relatively small bequest could disqualify them from essential benefits such as Supplemental Security Income and health insurance coverage through Medicaid. Special needs trusts must be carefully drafted to be effective, so consider consulting an experienced attorney.