10 Common Estate Planning Mistakes Your Family Can’t Afford to Make-Part 2
As we discussed last time, estate planning is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. You think your situation is simple, but we’ve found that this is rarely the case. In part one, we highlighted five of the top ten most common estate planning mistakes. This week, we wrap up the list with a discussion of the other five mistakes your family can’t afford to make. The list might surprise you.
6. Not Updating Beneficiary Designations
In addition to reviewing and updating your core estate planning documents like your will, trust, and power of attorney, it’s crucial that you also update the documentation for your other assets, especially those with beneficiary designations. Some of your most valuable assets, like 401(k)s, IRAs, and life insurance policies, do not transfer via a will or trust.
Instead, these assets have beneficiary designations that allow you to name the person (or persons) you’d like to inherit the asset upon your death. Oftentimes, people forget to change their beneficiary designations to match their estate planning goals, which can lead to disaster. For example, if you get remarried and forget to update your 401(k), your ex-spouse from 20 years ago could end up inheriting your retirement savings.
Additionally, some people assume that because they’ve named a specific heir as the beneficiary of their IRA in their will or trust that there’s no need to list the same person again as beneficiary in their IRA paperwork. Because of this, they leave the IRA beneficiary form blank or list “my estate” as the beneficiary. This is a major mistake that can lead to serious complications and expense for your loved ones.
It makes no difference who is listed as the beneficiary in your will or trust; you must list the person you want to inherit the asset in the beneficiary designation, or your heirs will have to go to court to claim the asset.
In addition, you should never name a minor child as a beneficiary of your life insurance or retirement accounts, even as the secondary beneficiary. If a child inherits assets, the assets become subject to control of the court until they reach the age of 18, and then, the assets are distributed outright without any protection or direction.
If you want a minor to inherit assets, you can create a special trust to hold the asset until the child comes of age, and name someone you trust to serve as a successor trustee to manage the assets until that time. As your estate planning lawyer, we can help you to choose the appropriate trust for this purpose to ensure your child gets the maximum benefit from their inheritance.
7. Improper Execution
You could have the best estate planning documents in the world, but if you fail to sign them, or sign them improperly, they will fail. This might seem trivial, but we see it all the time. A loved one dies, their family brings their estate planning documents to us, and we can’t help them because the documents were either not signed or signed improperly.
In order to be considered legally valid, certain estate planning documents like wills must be executed (i.e., signed, witnessed, and/or notarized) following very strict legal procedures. For example, many states require that you and every witness to your will must sign it in the presence of one another. If your DIY service doesn’t mention that condition (or you don’t read the fine print) and you fail to follow this procedure, the document can end up worthless.
8. Choosing the Wrong Executors or Trustees
In addition to laws regarding execution, state laws are also very specific about who can serve in certain roles like executor, trustee, or financial power of attorney. In some states, for instance, the executor of your will must either be a family member or an in-law, and if not, the person you choose must live in the state. If your chosen executor doesn’t meet those requirements, he or she cannot serve.
Moreover, some states require the person you name as your executor to get a bond, which is like an insurance policy before he or she can serve. Such bonds can be difficult to get for someone who has a less-than-stellar credit score. If your executor cannot get a bond, it would be up to the court to appoint your executor, which could end up being someone you would never want managing your assets or a third-party professional, who could drain your estate with costly fees.
As your estate planning lawyer, we will guide you to choose the most appropriate and qualified executors and/or trustees to manage your estate and assets.
9. Unintended Conflict Between Family Members
Family dynamics are—to put it lightly—quite complex. This is particularly true for blended families, where spouses have children from previous relationships. If you try to go it alone using a DIY document service, you won’t be able to consider all of the potential areas where conflict might arise among your family members and plan ahead to avoid such disputes. After all, even the best set of documents will be unable to anticipate and navigate these complex emotional matters—but we can.
Every day we see families end up in lifelong conflict due to poor estate planning. Yet, we also see families brought closer together as a result of handling these matters the right way. When done right, the estate planning process is actually a major opportunity to build new connections within your family, and our lawyers are specifically trained to help you with that.
In fact, preventing family conflict with proactive estate planning is our special sauce and one of the many reasons to work with us, as your estate planning lawyer, rather than relying on DIY planning documents, which will not identify or prevent unforeseen family disputes.
10. Failing To Properly Name Guardians For Minor Children
If you are a mom or dad with children under the age of 18 at home, your number-one estate planning priority should be selecting and legally documenting both long and short-term guardians for your kids. Guardians are the people legally named to care for your children in the event something happens to you.
If you haven’t named guardians for your kids yet, contact us to find out how you can take care of this critical task right now. If you’ve named guardians for your minor children in your will—even with the help of another lawyer—your kids could still be at risk of being taken into the care of strangers. For instance, if you’ve named guardians for your kids in your will, what would happen if you became incapacitated and were no longer able to care for them? Did you know that your will only becomes operative in the event of your death, and it would do nothing to protect your children in the event of your incapacity? Or perhaps the guardians you named in your will live far from your home, so it would take them several days to get there. If you haven’t made legally-binding arrangements for the immediate care of your children, it’s highly likely that they will be placed with the authorities until those guardians arrive.
Does anyone even know where you will is located and how to access it? How can they prove they are your children’s legal guardians if they can’t even find your estate plan?
These are just a few of the potential complications that can arise when naming legal guardians for your kids, whether in your will or as a stand-alone measure. If just one of these contingencies were to occur, your children would more than likely be placed into the care of strangers. Sadly, we see this happen even to those parents who’ve worked with lawyers to name legal guardians for their children, and that’s because most lawyers simply don’t know what’s necessary for planning and ensuring the well-being and care of minor children.
However, as your estate planning law firm, we have been trained by the author of the best-selling book, Wear Clean Underwear!: A Fast, Fun, Friendly, and Essential Guide to Legal Planning for Busy Parents, on legal planning for the unique needs of families with minor children. As a result of this training, we offer a comprehensive system known as the Kids Protection Plan, which is included with every estate plan we prepare for families with young children.
The Kids Protection Plan was created by a nationally recognized attorney, who is a mom herself, to make 100% certain that her kids would always remain in the loving care of people she knows and trusts and never be raised by anyone she didn’t want. Now, you can put this same plan in place for your kids.
If you have already named long-term guardians in your will or as a stand-alone measure, either on your own or with a lawyer, we can review your existing legal documents to see whether you have made any of the most common mistakes that could leave your kids at risk. From there, we will revise your plan and put the proper protections in place to ensure your children are fully protected.
Life and Legacy Planning: Do Right By Those You Love Most
The DIY approach might be a good idea if you’re looking to build a new deck for your backyard, but when it comes to estate planning, it’s actually one of the worst choices you can make. Are you really willing to put your family’s well-being and wealth at risk just to save a few bucks?
If you’ve yet to do any planning, contact us today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session, which is the first step in our Life & Legacy Planning Process. During this initial meeting, we’ll take you through an analysis of your assets, what’s most important to you, and what will happen to your loved ones when you die or if you become incapacitated.
If, as a result of this process, we determine that you really do have a very simple situation and you want to create your own estate planning documents yourself online, we will help you to do that. However, if as a result of the process, you decide you would like us to create a plan for you, we’ll support you to find the optimal level of planning for a price that’s right for you.
If you’ve already created an estate plan—whether it’s a DIY job or one created with another lawyer’s help—contact us to schedule an Estate Plan Review & Check-Up. With our support, we will ensure your plan is not only properly drafted and updated, but that it has all of the protections in place to prevent your children from ever being placed in the care of strangers or anyone you’d never want raising them.