Month: November 2021

Estate Planning Tips: 10 Mistakes To Avoid

Couple Looking At Computer With Estate Planning Advisor

Estate planning is one of the most common reasons for someone to require the services of an attorney. Virtually everyone has at least some assets, and those assets will need to be distributed after they pass away. Because this affects so many people, it’s helpful to know some of the top estate planning tips, such as mistakes to avoid.

Mistake #1: Not Having an Estate Plan

Hands down, the most common estate planning mistake is simply not having an estate plan. There are many reasons for this. Younger people often just don’t think about it, some people think they don’t have enough assets for it to be a concern, and others underestimate the complications that can arise when someone dies without a will. It may be an unpleasant thought, but everyone should ask themselves: what would happen to all of my property if I died today?

Mistake #2: Not Hiring an Attorney

As some of the following entries on this list will suggest, several legal requirements must be met for an estate plan to be valid. This becomes more important as the complexity of the estate increases, but even a simple will must be executed according to the law.

Mistake #3: Not Keeping Your Estate Plan Updated

As your life changes, your assets and wishes will likely change, too. It is all too easy to create an estate plan once and then forget about it. You should periodically revisit your estate plan, especially after major events such as marriage or the birth of a child.

Mistake #4: Underestimating the Potential for Conflict

It’s easy to assume that everyone you leave behind will understand your wishes and agree on what those wishes are, but that is not always the case. Emotions often run high after death, and you will not be there to clarify things. A clear estate plan can minimize conflict.

Mistake #5: Not Creating a Health Care Directive

Tragedies and accidents can happen in an instant. If an event such as a car crash leaves you incapacitated, your family will have to make important and difficult decisions about your medical care. Creating a health care directive in advance that lays out your specific instructions for various circumstances will make sure your wishes are met and make things easier for your family.

Mistake #6: Not Choosing an Executor for Your Estate

It will fall to someone to take care of all the work of administering your estate. If you have someone specific in mind, be sure to identify them. Otherwise, the probate court will appoint an executor for you.

Mistake #7: Missing Assets

All of your assets must be dealt with in one way or another. If your will only lists a series of specific gifts, the remainder of your estate will be distributed according to the state’s laws of intestacy (the rules that dictate what happens when someone dies without a will). On the other end, if your will only speaks in generalities, you might be overlooking specific property you want to be distributed in a more specific way.

Mistake #8: Digital or Electronic Wills

In most states, including California, electronic or digital wills are currently not accepted as valid. A will must be printed out, signed, and stored as a hard copy. Even if it complies with every other legal requirement, a document in your computer will likely be rejected by a probate court.

Mistake #9: Witness Signatures

In California, a will must be signed by two witnesses, preferably when you signed the document yourself. This helps prevent fraud. The witnesses should not be estate beneficiaries, either. If they are, the probate court can presume the will was created under duress and may disregard portions of it.

Mistake #10: Not Keeping the Will in a Place Where It Will Be Found

A will is no good if nobody can find it after you pass away. If you keep it in your home or office, keep it in a place where it will be easily discovered. The best option, however, is to keep your will on file with your attorney.

For More Estate Planning Tips

One of the best estate planning tips is to meet with an attorney. It may be tempting to go it alone, but many things can go wrong. The price of consulting an expert is quite modest compared to the potential problems created by DIY estate planning. Contact our office today to schedule a meeting.

Estate Plan Checklist: Is It Time For A Checkup?

Couple Working On Their Estate Plan Checklist

How is your estate plan looking these days? If you created it years ago and have not kept it up to date, it might not match up with your wishes anymore. Our lives hardly ever remain static for an extended period of time, so it’s only natural that an estate plan would slowly—or sometimes rapidly—fall out of sync with our current reality. Ask anyone to create a high-level estate plan checklist, and you might get a few different versions, but they generally look something like this:

  1. Take stock of your assets
  2. Define your goals
  3. Meet with an attorney to create the right plan
  4. Revisit the plan from time to time to make sure it’s up to date

It’s very easy to lose track of this fourth component because it’s natural to think, “That’s done, now I don’t have to worry about it anymore.” However, sometimes an out-of-date estate plan can be just as bad as having no plan at all.

Why You May Need to Change Your Estate Plan

As circumstances in your life change, it is likely that your approach to estate planning and the legacy you want to leave behind will change as well. Here are some of the most common reasons that may cause someone to need to update their estate plan.

Marriage & Divorce

When people marry, they, of course, want to provide for each other, but they usually also want their new spouse to be involved in the planning process. There are probably new family members to consider, and marriage often brings new assets into the equation. On the opposite side, divorce involves a complicated disentangling of previous estate plans.

Increase in Assets

Our assets profoundly affect our estate plans. As we work, save, and invest, it’s common for our assets to increase as we get older. This may create considerations that did not exist before. For example, a person who once rented an apartment may later have rental properties of their own; that rental income could go into a trust for a family member or charitable organization.

Death or Birth of Family Members

Since most estate plans deal mainly with leaving assets to family members, it is expected that the plan should change as the family changes. In addition, as people pass away or children are born, you may need to make some major updates.

Changes in Attitudes and Opinions

This can cover a wide variety of situations. For example, you may have previously planned to leave a greater share of assets to a particular child because you thought they needed it, but now that’s no longer the case. Or, if you have created a health care directive—which we highly recommend—your thoughts on the subject may have evolved over the years.

Making the Necessary Changes

However your life changes, it is critical that your estate plan changes with you. First, review your current plan and make sure it matches your wishes. If not, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to start over from scratch, but you should essentially repeat the original process: 1) Take stock of your assets; 2) Define your goals, and 3) Meet with an attorney to help you put the new plan into action.

Our team of experts is ready to meet with you to ensure you have the estate plan you want. Contact us today to schedule a consultation and we’ll help you review your estate plan checklist.