Every estate plan has unique features, but after preparing living trusts and wills for the nearly thirty years, we have seen the same problems and mistakes often reoccur. Each of these common mistakes is avoidable as long as you take the care to make sure you been address them correctly. From wills to trusts and beyond, protect your loved ones by avoiding these four costly and common estate-planning mistakes.
1. Neglecting to Update Your Estate Plan
Many people become passive in the presence of an estate planning attorney. They rely on the attorney to make sure everything in the plan is what they need and is done properly. Part of the estate planner’s job is to be sure you understand the basics of how the plan works, what you need to do to implement or maintain the plan, and how it works for you and your beneficiaries. It is not your job to know all the legal angles and why certain language is used.
Often people make decisions after a discussion with their estate attorney but then later on details become hazy. Insist that your attorney simply explain your documents. You may wish to take notes about key decisions and why you made them. Each time the law or your family changes, you need to make it a part of your check-list to revisit your estate plan. These changes may require alterations in both new and old estate plans.
2. Not Updating Powers of Attorney
Every estate plan should include powers of attorney. You need at least two, one for financial matters and one for medical care, often called an Advance Heath Care Directive in California. Unfortunately, many people don’t have either of these documents, and others haven’t kept them up to date or given the details much thought. Be sure you have these completed these documents and that they have been reviewed recently. Your financial power of attorney agents normally mimic your Executors and Successor Trustees.
3. Not Updating Beneficiary Designations
Failure to update beneficiary designations means an asset might go to your parents, siblings, or even an ex-spouse because of what the original form states. Your asset may be designated to a deceased person, or other unintended beneficiaries – we’ve seen it all. Other times someone is inadvertently excluded because they were born or married into the family after you completed the form. Review your beneficiary designations every couple of years and after every major life change in your family.
4. Not Updating Asset Ownership
You might own some assets in your own name and others in joint title with your spouse, adult child, or someone else. Some assets might be in your trust, limited partnerships, or other vehicles. When you have a living trust, the trust only protects assets that it owns. Normally all real estate, partnerships, brokerage accounts, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, notes, bank accounts and personal property will be owned by your trust. Life insurance policies will name your trust as beneficiary (except for special policies created to pay estate taxes). IRA, 401K and similar tax deferred retirement accounts cannot be owned by the trust – it is critical to name the right beneficiary on these accounts.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act made significant changes in income and estate taxes. If you have a trust or established estate plan created before 2012, you should have them reviewed to see if they are obsolete, or add unnecessary costs and complexity. To help your beneficiaries avoid unnecessary stress, ensure that you are distributing the right assets to the right people. You would be surprised what we find in old estate plans!
Are You Worried about Your Estate Plan?
If you are not properly prepared and with a well-planned will, then your family could be vulnerable to higher tax bills, extensive legal fees, and familial conflicts. To avoid those obstacles you should visit an Estate Planning Attorney to get professional help, and create a plan that well suits your goals.
At The Law Offices of Joel A Harris located in Antioch, California (here is a convenient map), we have worked for over 25 years giving the best guidance our clients need to protect their assets. Have a question about your planning your estate? Feel free to schedule a sit-down meeting where we are happy to patiently answer every question you may have. For your free consultation reach out to us at (925) 757-4605.