Five Estate Planning Mistakes to Avoid

Five common estate planning mistakes are easy to avoid with the right information and support, as well as a little creativity.

While it’s true that no estate is completely bulletproof, there are mistakes that people make that are big enough to walk through, while others are more like a slow drip, making things harder in a slow but steady process. There are common estate planning mistakes that can be easily avoided, reports Comstock Magazine in the article “Five Mistakes to Avoid When Planning Your Estate.”

  1. Misunderstanding Estate Law. Some people are so thrown by the idea of an estate plan, that they can’t get past the word “estate.” You don’t need a mansion to have an estate. An “estate” does not mean extreme wealth.  The term is actually used to refer to any and all property that a person owns, regardless of debts. Even people with modest estates need a plan to help beneficiaries avoid unnecessary costs and stress, and typically estate planning is even more critical for such individuals. Talk with an estate planning attorney to learn what your needs are, from a will to trusts to incapacity planning. Make sure that this is the attorney’s key practice area.  A real estate attorney, family law attorney or the friend or family member who is a lawyer won’t have the same knowledge and experience.
  2. Getting Bad or Incomplete Advice. It takes a team to create a strong estate plan. That means an estate planning attorney, a financial advisor and an accountant. Look for a firm that will tailor an estate plan specifically to your goals. The is no one size fits all approach, and many tools are needed for a complete estate plan. Buying an insurance policy or an annuity is not an estate plan, but may helps achieve those goals.
  3. Naming Yourself as a Sole Trustee without a Back-up. Naming yourself as a sole trustee puts you and your estate in a precarious position. What if you develop Alzheimer’s or are injured in an accident? A trusted individual, a family member, a longstanding friend or even a professional trustee, needs to be named to protect your interests, if you should become incapacitated.  This is also why you should have Durable Financial Powers of Attorney and Healthcare Powers of Attorney, among other documents, to ensure someone you trust may act on your behalf if you cannot.
  4. Losing Track of Assets. Without a complete list of all assets, it’s nearly impossible for someone to know what you own and who your heirs may be. Some assets, including retirement funds, life insurance policies, or investment accounts, have named beneficiaries. Those people will inherit these assets, regardless of what is in your estate plan. If your heirs can’t find the assets, they may be lost or there may be a long delay in obtaining them. If you don’t update your beneficiaries, they may go to unintended heirs—like children of prior relationships, someone other than your spouse and so on.
  5. Deciding on Options Without Being Fully Informed. When it comes to estate planning, the natural tendency is to go with what we think is the right thing. For example, people often say “I just need a will,” but learn later that the will requires probate, or doesn’t address the disability of a child.  However, unless you are an estate planning attorney, chances are you don’t know what the right thing is. For tax reasons, for instance, it may make sense to transfer assets, while you are still living. However, that might also be a terrible idea, if you choose the wrong person to hold your assets or don’t put them in the right kind of trust.  It may also make sense to leave income taxable assets to charities, and non-income taxable assets such as life insurance, to individuals.  You don’t know what you don’t know, so it is important to work with an estate planning attorney to craft the plan that’s right for you.   See here for some estate planning frequently asked questions to get you started.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/estate-planning-questions/

Estate planning is still a highly personal process that depends upon every person’s unique experience. Your family situation is different than anyone else’s. An experienced estate planning attorney will be able to create a plan and help you to avoid the big, most commonly made mistakes.  Please contact our office to discuss how your plan can avoid these estate planning mistakes.

Reference: Comstock Magazine (Dec. 2019) “Five Mistakes to Avoid When Planning Your Estate”

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Everyone Needs an Estate Plan!

Everyone should have an estate plan
Every adult needs an estate plan, don’t wait until you have an “estate.”

Every adult, whether we have a lot of property or not, should have an estate plan.  A client once told me they didn’t need a Will because they didn’t have an “estate.”  They thought it meant substantial wealth, but estate planning is much more than that.

As we go through the many milestones of life, it’s important to plan for what’s coming, and also plan for the unexpected, even beyond the finances. An estate planning attorney works with individuals, families and businesses to plan for what lies ahead, says the Cincinnati Business Courier in the article “Estate planning considerations for every stage of life.” For younger families, having an estate plan is like having life insurance: it is hoped that the insurance is never needed, but having it in place is comforting.

For others, in different stages of life, an estate plan is needed to ensure a smooth transition for a business owner heading to retirement, protecting a spouse or children from creditors or minimizing tax liability for a family.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are some milestones in life when you need an estate plan:

Becoming an adult. It is true, for most 18-year-olds, estate planning is the last thing on their minds. However, at 18 most states consider them legal adults, and their parents no longer control many things in their lives. If parents want or need to be involved with medical or financial matters, certain estate planning documents are needed. All new adults need a general power of attorney and health care directives to allow someone else to step in, if something occurs.  Michael Galligan from our office gave a great presentation this summer on this topic.  See here for the video.  https://youtu.be/lZUaMVRRTms  

That can be as minimal as a parent talking with a doctor during an office appointment or making medical decisions during a crisis. A HIPAA release should also be prepared. A simple will should be considered, especially if assets are to pass directly to siblings or a significant person in their life, to whom they are not married.

Getting married. Marriage unites individuals and their assets. In community property states like Texas, it creates the new wrinkle of community property.  For newly married couples, estate planning documents should be updated for each spouse, so their estate plans may be coordinated and the new spouse can become a joint owner, primary beneficiary and fiduciary. In addition to the wills, power of attorney, healthcare directive and beneficiary designations also need to be updated to name the new spouse or a trust. This is also a time to start keeping a list of assets, in case someone needs to access accounts.

If this is not the first marriage, there is an even greater need for an estate plan because there may be children from the prior marriage to plan for.  Remember, your assets don’t go to a surviving spouse just because you are married, so you definitely need an estate plan.

When children join the family. Whether born or adopted, the entrance of children into the family makes an estate plan especially important. Choosing guardians who will raise the children in the absence of their parents is the hardest thing to think about, but it is critical for the children’s well-being. A revocable trust may be a means of allowing the seamless transfer and ongoing administration of the family’s assets to benefit the children and other family members.

Part of business planning. Estate planning should be part of every business owner’s plan. If the unexpected occurs, the business and the owner’s family will also be better off, regardless of whether they are involved in the business. At the very least, business interests should be directed to transfer out of probate, allowing for an efficient transition of the business to the right people without the burden of probate estate administration.  You also want to address these issues.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/the-importance-of-business-succession-planning/

If a divorce occurs. Divorce is a sad reality for more than half of today’s married couples. The post-divorce period is the time to review the estate plan to remove the ex-spouse, change any beneficiary designations, and plan for new fiduciaries. It’s important to review all accounts to ensure that any controlling-on-death accounts are updated. A careful review by an estate planning attorney is worth the time to make sure no assets are overlooked.

Upon retirement. Just before or after retirement is an important time to review an estate plan. Children may be grown and take on roles of fiduciaries or be in a position to help with medical or financial affairs. This is the time to plan for wealth transfer, minimizing estate taxes and planning for incapacity.

In sum, it is important to realize everyone needs to plan.  Don’t wait because you think you don’t need one.

Reference: Cincinnati Business Courier (Sep. 4, 2019) “Estate planning considerations for every stage of life.”

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