Estate planning is sort of like chemistry – a small mistake could have dramatic results, costing your family a lot in terms of time, money, and frustration. These seven mistakes are easy to avoid, but also easy to make.
I know I have my favorite excuses for putting off the unpleasant, and I doubt I’m alone in that. When it comes to estate planning, there is no perceived urgency. The reality is that we don’t have a money back guarantee for our health or life. The unexpected, when unplanned for can have unpleasant consequences for you and your family.
2. Don’t communicate
Discussing these topics can be awkward, but you may be surprised how much your kids appreciate a discussion of your wishes. It makes it easier for them later to know what you wanted to have happen, and avoid surprises.
3. Fail to excommunicate
Surprising numbers of divorced spouses never update their estate plan, meaning that when they pass away, their family is going to be in court battling with the ex-spouse. When you divorce, or when you get married, make a point to have your estate plan updated.
4. Fail to fund
Creating a trust is like buying a fancy new car – if you don’t put gas in the tank, its still not going anywhere. You have to transfer your assets into the trust – fuel the car – for the trust to work. Unfortunately, a lot of self help and even common practice among attorneys who should know better is to ignore this important area.
5. Fail to find
If your kids don’t know that a life insurance policy exists, they may not be able to submit a claim. If they don’t know an asset exists, they may not be able to do anything with it. And, if they (or you!) can’t find your estate plan, it won’t help them very much either. Your family will appreciate a bit of organization so that even if they don’t know the details now, they can find your important documents quickly and easily when the time comes.
6. Pick the Wrong People
The decisions you make regarding your finances and your well-being are the most personal decisions you can make. If you don’t pick someone, you may find yourself with diminished capacity facing the conservatorship court system, perhaps initiated by a relative who doesn’t have your best interest in mind. Its important to choose who will make medical and financial decisions for you, and have confidence that they will do a good job for you. If you don’t trust anyone in your immediate circle, talk to your estate planning attorney; they’ll have some solutions for you to consider.
7. Pick the wrong attorney
Speaking of talking to your estate planning attorney, the last mistake is picking the wrong one. Do they have experience and expertise? Are they focused on this transaction only, or are they focused on providing a relationship to support your family’s needs long term? Will they keep you informed on an ongoing basis, for free? Are they part of any national organizations for estate planning attorneys? There are a number of good ones, the best being Wealth Counsel.