Top 10 Estate Planning Mistakes

  1. Not getting around to it. Not putting your plan in writing is always a bad idea.
  2. Believing the myth that estate planning is only for the wealthy. This is a fallacy. Estate planning is important for everyone who is concerned about where their assets will end up during disability and upon their demise. Often, when taking the value of a home into account, people are surprised to find that their “estates” are larger than they thought.
  3. Leaving the Living Trust Unfunded: A living trust is merely a vehicle that allows you to pass your assets outside of probate. However, if there are no assets in the trust, nothing has been accomplished. There is no point in drafting a living trust if the assets are not re-titled into the name of the trust.
  4. Leaving Assets as Joint-Tenancy: Titling assets as joint-tenancy with-right-of-survivorship (JT/WROS) does avoid probate because the assets pass automatically upon the first death, however, they are exposed to the lifetime creditors of the co-owner.
  5. Leaving Assets Outright to Beneficiaries: Assets that are left outright to heirs and beneficiaries are exposed to creditors, predators and divorcing spouses. It is much better to leave assets in trust for their benefit. Assets left in trust have potential asset protection. The beneficiaries still have access to the funds but creditors, lawsuits and divorcing spouses normally cannot touch the assets inside the trust.
  6. Little or no Mental Disability Planning: If no or inadequate planning has been done, mental disability often results in the “living probate” of court-ordered and supervised guardianship and conservatorship. Using a living trust, you can choose who will decide when you’re disabled, who the disability trustee will be, and leave detailed instructions about how you want to be cared for during your disability.
  7. Not Having a Living Will: Some people assume that because they have a living trust they do not need a living will. This assumption is wrong. A living will gives guidelines for your physician to follow in the event you are in a terminal, end-stage, and permanently unconscious.
  8. Not Communicating with Trustees and Beneficiaries: It is important to let the people who are named in your estate plan, either as trustees or beneficiaries, know what role you are asking them to play. Proper communication with these people (and providing them training) will go a long way to ensure a smooth transition during the settlement of your estate.
  9. Not Knowing Where All the “Stuff” Is: A scattered estate plan by a secretive decedent may cause some assets to be left uncollected, undistributed and even lost.
  10. Not Updating Your Estate Plan: Each year Congress passes new laws, the IRS issues new regulations and circumstances in your own life change. All of these things can affect your estate plan. It is imperative that your estate plan is reviewed on an annual basis to avoid unintended results.