What are Biggest Estate Planning Mistakes?
The Huffington Post’s recent article entitled “The Biggest Mistakes People Make In Their Wills, According To Estate Lawyers” explains that your last will and testament is one of the most important legal documents you’ll ever have. A will lets you state where you want your property, minor children and debts to go after you die. It also allows you to appoint an executor to carry out your wishes. The lack of a will is a common tragic mistake. Just about everyone over the age of 18 needs some estate planning. The following are some of the major estate planning mistakes:
- Assigning co-executors. You should name only one executor, with alternate executors. Many testators want to make all their children responsible for administering the estate. However, that’s a really bad idea. If you have two executors, and they don’t agree, who gets the final say? However, if you’re set on naming more than one, make it an odd number so it’s majority-rule.
- Thinking a will is all you need to avoid probate. Probate is the legal process of administering a person’s estate whether they die with a will or without one (i.e., “intestate”). Although a valid will can say where assets are allocated, it will likely not avoid the probate process if there are assets titled solely in your name. If you have a will in place, but a bank account doesn’t have a beneficiary designation, the assets likely have to go through the probate process before being distributed according to the terms of your will.
- Being too vague about items with sentimental value. When people pass away, relationships change. Money can change people. Children who got along so well when you were alive may not get along as well when you’re gone and not there to mediate between them. If you’re too general, a term may be based on interpretation. If people interpret it differently, there’s a problem. If you know that someone wants a specific item, write it down.
- Failing to consider the tax impact of your planning. Many people choose an advisor that does not understand the tax impact of the estate plan that is drafted. You should know the federal and state income and estate tax impact of your plan by consulting with an attorney that understands the tax system, or at least by getting your CPA invovled with your attorney in the estate planning process.
- Failing to update your will to reflect life changes. The biggest mistake people make when it comes to doing wills or estate plans is their failure to update those documents. There are a number of life events that require the documents to be updated, such as marriage, divorce and births of children. It is recommended that your estate plan be revisited every few years.
- Failing to update your beneficiary designations. Your will does not control the beneficiary designations under your life insurance, IRA or 401K. These assets are transferred pursuant to the contract you have with the life insurance company or IRA/401K custodian. These should be reviewed in any estate planning chekup.
- Failing to hire an experienced estate planning attorney. It’s important to get your estate planning documents correct. This is because when the documents are executed, the difference between a good set of documents and those drafted by a non-attorney (or one who doesn’t practice in this area of law) can mean considerably more time, money and stress.
BOOK A CALL with me, Ted Vicknair, Board Certified Estate Planning and Administration Specialist, Board Certified Tax Law Specialist, and CPA to learn more about estate planning, incapacity planning, and asset protection.
If you liked this article, “What are Biggest Estate Planning Mistakes?” read also these additional articles: What Should I Know about Finances Before Getting Married Again? and Should I have a Discretionary Trust in My Estate Plan? and Straight Talk About Having a Will and What are my Responsibilities if I’m Named an Executor?
Reference: Huffington Post (March 8, 2022) “The Biggest Mistakes People Make in Their Wills, According to Estate Lawyers”