One reason to review your estate plan is to make sure people you’ve assigned roles to, like executor or guardian, are still living and willing to perform these tasks, according to the article “Five common estate planning mistakes to avoid” from the Idaho Press. Another is to be sure your estate plan is not missing out on any advantages created by new tax laws.
Biggest estate planning mistake: not having an estate plan. Each state has its own laws for distributing property when a person dies without an estate plan. These generally involve leaving a percentage of the decedent’s assets to family members, based on kinship. If the decedent and their partner are unmarried, no matter how long they have been together, the partner receives nothing. Spouses and biological children typically receive a share. This may leave the surviving spouse without enough money to live on. If the children are minors, the court will control their inheritance and when they reach the age of majority, the children receive the entire inheritance.
Second worst mistake: failing to name a guardian and giving no guidance for how you would like minor children to be raised. A guardian must be named in a will or the court will name a guardian. Wise parents also create a letter to the guardian outlining their values, how they would like their children raised and whatever personal information a guardian should know about their children’s personalities, preferences and interests. This is a kindness to the children and the guardian.
Third is relying on joint ownership to avoid probate. This doesn’t work as well as you might think. Many people add an adult child to the title of assets like their home, and it creates more problems than it solves. Jointly-owned assets are vulnerable to the co-owner’s creditors, divorce proceedings and even misuse of the assets. The co-owners must agree to all actions concerning the property, so if the parent wants to sell the house and the co-owning offspring does not, the parent may not be able to sell their own home. To make things more problematic, if there’s more than one child and only one is named co-owner, there is no legal requirement for the co-owner to share with their siblings. If the value of an asset fluctuates and the intent was to give all children equal shares, this can be undone as well.
Fourth is failing to plan for incapacity. People think of estate planning as planning for death but planning for incapacity is an equally important part of estate planning. If a person is too sick or injured to manage their personal business, only a court appointee can act on their behalf, unless a Power of Attorney exists. The POA is used to appoint a person to act as your agent when you cannot do so. Don’t rely on standardized forms: a POA can be assigned powers to act on everything from investments to bill paying to selling a home, or it can be limited to specific tasks. Your estate planning attorney can create a POA to reflect your needs.
You’ll also want a Power of Attorney for Health Care, sometimes called a Medical Power of Attorney. This allows your health care agent to speak with your doctors and be actively engaged in your medical care. Your estate planning attorney will prepare a Living Will, used to document your wishes for end-of-life care. You should also have a HIPAA form prepared, so your agent can access your medical records.
The fifth mistake is not keeping an estate plan up to date. Tax laws aren’t the only things to change and impact your estate plan. A friend from two decades ago may not want to serve as your executor or may have died or moved to another country. Your children may have had children of their own or divorced their spouses. Life changes and your estate plan needs to reflect these changes.
Reference: Idaho Press (Nov. 26, 2022) “Five common estate planning mistakes to avoid”
Suggested Key Terms: Last Will and Testament, Power of Attorney, Incapacitated, Estate Planning Attorney, Executor, Guardian, HIPAA, Living Will, Medical POA, Creditors, Divorce