Estate planning is a critical means of planning for the future and taking control over important life decisions. However, many aspects of estate planning require careful preparation and attention to detail. Missteps can frustrate your plans or goals down the road.
At Tolison & Williams, Attorneys at Law, LLC, I can help you avoid these top 10 estate planning mistakes as well as many other pitfalls that may arise:
- Assuming that your will controls the disposition of all your assets: In fact, the disposition of many assets — such as payable on death accounts, life insurance policies and certain forms ofjointly owned properties — are governed by their own terms rather than by a will.
- Failing to carefully select a qualified personal representative or agent:A crucial part of estate planning is selecting trusted individuals to handle your affairs in the event of your death or incapacity. Given the significance of their role, such individuals should be chosen with care and after thorough discussion and consideration.
- Neglecting to update your estate plan to reflect life's changes: You must keep your estate plan up to date for it to be fully effective. Some changes may not require a major overhaul, but may be updated with a simple amendment or codicil.
- Failing to plan for incapacity: Estate planning involves not only planning for death, but also planning for life — specifically, who you would like to make decisions on your behalf if you are incapacitated. You can also set forth your end-of-life wishes so that your loved ones are not left guessing and may properly honor your wishes.
- Pursuing a do-it-yourself or boilerplate estate plan:Just as your life is one of a kind, so, too, your estate plan should reflect your unique circumstances and goals. It could be argued that a form document from the local office supply store or new fancy website is better than no document at all, but if you are going to take the time and effort to engage in any estate planning, you should take the time to work with an experienced estate planning attorney to help you understand all of your choices and the implications of your decisions.
- Failing to examine the ownership structure of your assets: How an asset is owned determines how it will pass upon your death. A thorough estate plan involves a review of your assets and how they are owned, not simply a review of what you own.
- Failing to adequately plan for a loved one with special needs: Unique considerations are involved in establishing an inheritance for a loved one who has a disability or special needs. Failure to adequately plan may cause your loved one to lose his or her eligibility for public assistance.
- Failing to make your wishes explicit:Vague or poorly crafted wills and trusts can be subject to multiple interpretations. This, in turn, can lead to lengthy and intensive probate litigation.
- Failing to consider contingencies: None of us knows what the future holds. Thus, in estate planning, it is critical to plan ahead for all possible scenarios. This may require designating alternative dispositions and successor beneficiaries, personal representatives, agents or trustees.
- Failing to seek professional input:Estate planning is a complex area of law. By consulting with an experienced attorney who understands the legal intricacies at play, you can obtain peace of mind, knowing your affairs are in order.
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