Estate planning shouldn’t be considered as an hour spent in an attorney’s office, once in your life, and only after you’ve established your career, bought a home, started a family and hit your 30th birthday. Estate planning is designed to change and grow with your life. A simple overlooked detail can change what happens after you’re no longer here. Your best first defense against estate planning mistakes is your legal advocate. Here are 3 estate planning mistakes that many make and how to avoid them in your own plans.
Most of us can relate to a seemingly endless series of carbon copy days. Work, school, dinner and bed – day after day. Of course, those days don’t last, but it’s easy to fall into a routine. We may think nothing changes so therefore, nothing should shift in our wills, choices in executors and trustees and our financial plans. Not until you take a look back at your planning choices that you realize a lot’s been going on in those days that seem like a repeat of the day before. Kids grow up, graduate high school and college. They get married. Sometimes we get divorced. Life changes on a dime.
At least annually, take some time to review your estate plan. Explore your will, your insurance policies, review your retirement to see if you can increase your contributions, update your digital estate – all of it. If you’ve divorced, and especially if you’ve remarried, remember that you have to change your retirement accounts. Just because you change your will doesn’t mean it will apply “across the board”. You have to change every document or else live with the possibility that a former spouse and a current spouse will turn a courtroom into a boxing match after your death.
Look past the obvious, especially when it comes to your trustees. Take a look at those you’ve chosen as trustees and executors. Double check your powers of attorney, too. Is your choice in your medical power of attorney still the right person? You’d be surprised to learn how often a close friend or trusted confidant passes away and it not even triggering a reminder in someone’s mind that they need to choose a different person to make financial decisions for them if they become disabled. We saw that happen in the death of Robin Williams a few years ago. His estate could now become public fodder, despite the very detailed attention he paid to his estate plan. One of his trustees died years ago and that deceased person was still listed on one of Williams’ trusts.
We live in a new world. Of course, we’ve not used quills and inks for a hundred years, nor do we use the classic typewriter to memorialize our wishes. What we are doing, however, is storing a lot of information in a space that no one sees or touches – today, the “cloud” is the new filing cabinet. If we can’t see it or touch it, no one else can either – especially if they don’t know it even exists. Be sure you leave the right information in the right place so that the right person will know how to access your digital assets. You’d be surprised, too, at the number of assets you actually have, even if it’s a dozen or so gift cards that still have five, ten or fifty dollars value on them. Your digital photos that you store online and your music libraries all have value – sentimental or financial.
Finally, remember that your estate planning attorney is the best first person to call with questions, changes and yes, even reassurances that you’ve got it right. To learn more about keeping your own estate planning efforts current, give us a call today.
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