Most people recognize the need for an estate plan. Among many other things, your plan can help ensure your family will be taken care of per your wishes after your death. While it’s not pleasant to contemplate your own mortality, if you’re ready to begin the process of drafting your plan, keep these five pitfalls in mind.
1. You don’t understand your estate plan
Surprisingly, this pitfall is at the root of many estate planning debacles, despite the guidance of an experienced estate planning advisor. Simply signing documents without knowing what you’re signing, or what they mean, could cause problems. This is especially true if you don’t follow up with actions you’re supposed to take.
You don’t have to be a legal expert, but it’s important to grasp the basic concepts. Even though you can rely on your advisor, knowledge is power.
2. You don’t properly fund trusts
Frequently, an estate plan will include one or more trusts, including a revocable living trust. The main benefit of a living trust is that assets transferred to the trust don’t have to be probated and exposed to public inspection. It’s generally recommended that such a trust be used only as a complement to a will, not as a replacement.
However, the trust must be funded with assets, meaning that legal ownership of the assets must be transferred to the trust. For example, if you’re transferring securities or bank accounts, you should follow the directions provided by the financial institutions. Otherwise, the assets must be probated.
3. You don’t properly title assets
Both inside and outside of trusts, the manner in which you own assets can make a big difference. For instance, if you own property as joint tenants with rights of survivorship, the assets will go directly to the other named person, such as your spouse, on your death.
Titling assets at the time of purchase (or transfer) is critical. But you also should review these designations periodically, just as you should your beneficiary designations.
4. You don’t coordinate different plan aspects
Typically, an estate plan has several moving parts, including a will, a power of attorney, trusts, retirement plan accounts and life insurance policies. Don’t look at each piece in a vacuum.
Individually, each aspect may have different objectives. But, together, the components should sync to form a well-coordinated plan.
5. You don’t review the plan
Think of your estate plan as a “living” entity that must be nourished and sustained. Don’t allow it to gather dust in a safe deposit box or file cabinet. Consider the impact of major life events such as births, deaths, marriages, divorces, or job changes and relocations, just to name a few.
The easiest way to avoid problems regarding your estate plan is to have a qualified estate planning advisor draft it for you. He or she has the expertise to help ensure that your plan will work as intended after you’re gone.