The Biggest Estate Planning Mistakes to Avoid

Some of the biggest estate planning mistakes are easy to avoid, including having an up-to-date will, checking beneficiary designations and planning younger.

Nobody likes to plan for events like aging, incapacity, or death. However, failing to do so can cause families burdens and grief, thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours.

Fox Business’ recent article, “Here are the top estate planning mistakes to avoid,” says that planning for life’s unexpected events is critical. However, it can often be a hard process to navigate. Let’s look at the top estate planning mistakes to avoid, according to industry experts:

  1. Failing to sign a will (or one that can be located). The biggest mistake is simply not having a will. I’ve written on this often (see here for example https://www.galliganmanning.com/everyone-needs-an-estate-plan/), but unfortunately clients consistently say they didn’t think they needed a will. Estate planning is critically important to protect you, your family and your hard-earned assets—during your lifetime, in the event of your incapacity, and upon your death.  In addition to having a will, it needs to be findable. The Wall Street Journal says that the biggest estate planning error is simply losing a will. Make sure your family has access to your estate planning documents.
  2. Failing to name and update beneficiaries. An asset with a beneficiary designation supersedes any terms in a will. Review your 401(k), IRA, life insurance, and any other accounts with beneficiaries after any significant life event. If you don’t have the proper beneficiary designations, income tax on retirement accounts may have to be paid sooner. This may lead to increased income tax liability, and the designation of a beneficiary on a life insurance policy can affect whether the proceeds are subject to creditors’ claims.  In many cases where clients tried to avoid probate, one broken beneficiary designation becomes the sole reason to probate the will.

There’s another mistake that impacts people with minor children, which is naming a guardian for minor children and then naming that person as beneficiary of their life insurance, instead of leaving it to a trust for the child. A minor child can’t receive that money. It also exposes the money to the beneficiary’s creditors and spouse.

  1. Failing to consider powers of attorney for adult children. When your children reach age 18, they’re adults in the eyes of the law. If something unfortunate happens to them, you may be left without any say in their treatment. In the event that an 18-year-old becomes ill or has an accident, a hospital won’t consult with their parents if a power of attorney for health care isn’t in place. Unless a power of attorney for property is signed, a parent may not be able to take care of bills, make investment decisions and pay taxes without the child’s signature. This could create an issue when your child is in college—especially if he or she is attending school abroad. It is very important that when your child turns 18 that you have powers of attorney put into place.

If you have any of these estate planning mistakes in your plan, please contact us for a consultation to fix these mistakes for you and your family.

Reference: Fox Business (October 15, 2019) “Here are the top estate planning mistakes to avoid”

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Power of Attorney: Why It Is Important

Don't wait to create a power of attorney.
Don’t wait to create a power of attorney.

Unfortunately, you never know when a power of attorney will be needed to allow someone else to make financial and medical decisions for you. An accident or sudden illness can occur without warning. A power of attorney is a necessary document if your are too ill, injured, or lack the mental capacity to make your own decisions. The article, “Why you’re never too young for a power of attorney” from Lancaster Online, explains what these documents are, and what purpose they serve.

There are two basic power of attorney documents or “POA’s”: one for making financial decisions and one for making medical decisions. A financial POA may be effective immediately or when a doctor certifies that you are unable to handle your financial affairs. A medical POA  becomes effective when you cannot communicate a medical decision. Until then, you are completely in charge of decisions related to your medical care.

If you don’t have a POA and you are unable to make financial and medical decisions for yourself, a guardian must be appointed in a court proceeding to make decisions for you. This is an expensive and time consuming process and the outcome may not be what you would have wanted.

Anyone over the age of 18 should have a financial and medical power of attorney. Many parents start realizing this when their children go off to college. Parents are often surprised and frustrated when they find out that, because their college age children are considered adults, the parents no longer have access to their children’s financial and medical information, not even in an emergency.  That’s why our next client education seminar on June 26 is devoted to what estate planning documents students need to have in place before they go off to college. (See our website at www.galliganmanning.com for more details and information on how to register.)

While it’s never too early for a person 18 years of age or older to have medical and financial powers of attorney in place, you could wait until it’s too late. If you become incapacitated, you cannot sign a POA. We often see this when children of aging parents contact us in a panic because their parents never executed powers of attorney. If the aging parent lacks capacity and cannot sign a POA, the family is faced with the need to pursue a guardianship.

You should work with an estate planning attorney to create the powers of attorney you need.  An estate planning attorney will be able to tailor your POA to your exact needs. They will also make sure to create a document that gives proper powers to the people you select.

Review your POA’s at least annually to be sure that the people you have selected are still the people you want taking care of your financial and medical matters, if the need should ever arise.

Most important of all, don’t wait to have powers of attorney created for you. They are even more important than a Will because the powers of attorney affect your care while you are alive.

Learn more about powers of attorney and other estate planning documents.

Reference: Lancaster Online (May 15, 2019) “Why you’re never too young for a power of attorney”

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