There are a few mistakes that can make an estate plan defective. Most of these can be easily avoided by reviewing your estate plan periodically and keeping it up to date.
Investopedia’s article from a few years ago titled “5 Ways to Mess Up Estate Planning” lists these common blunders:
- Not Updating Your Beneficiaries. Big events like marriage, divorce, birth, adoption, and death can all have an effect on who will receive your assets. Be certain that those you want to inherit your property are clearly detailed as such on the proper forms. Whenever you have a life change, update your estate plan, as well as all your financial accounts, retirement accounts, and insurance policies.
- Forgetting Important Legal Documents. Your will may be just fine, but it won’t exempt your assets from the probate process in most states if the dollar value of your estate exceeds a certain amount. Some assets are inherently exempt from probate by law, like life insurance, retirement plans and annuities, and any financial account that has a transfer on death (TOD) beneficiary listed. You should also make sure that you nominate the guardians of minor children in your will in the event that something should happen to you and/or your spouse or partner.
- Lousy Recordkeeping. There are few things that your family will like less than having to spend a huge amount of time and effort finding, organizing, and hunting down all of your assets and belongings without any directions from you on where to look. Create a detailed letter of instruction that tells your executor or executrix where everything is found, along with the names and contact information of everyone with whom they’ll have to work, like your banker, broker, insurance agent, financial planner, etc. You should also list all of the financial websites you use with your login info so that your accounts can be conveniently accessed.
- Bad Communication. Telling your loved ones that you’ll do one thing with your money or possessions and then failing to make provisions in your plan for that to happen is a sure way to create hard feelings, broken relationships, and perhaps litigation. It’s a good idea to compose a letter of explanation that sets out your intentions or tells them why you changed your mind about something. This could help in providing closure or peace of mind (despite the fact that it has no legal authority).
- No Estate Plan. While this is about the most obvious mistake in the list, it’s also one of the most common. There are many tales of famous people who lost virtually all of their estates to court fees and legal costs because they failed to plan.
These are just a few of the common estate planning errors that commonly happen. In order to make sure that they don’t happen to you, talk to a qualified estate planning attorney.
Reference: Investopedia (Sep. 30, 2018) “5 Ways to Mess Up Estate Planning”