When it comes to protecting your wealth and your family creating an estate plan is one of the most important things you can do. An estate plan is your key to ensuring that your hard-earned assets are distributed (or saved or invested) as you designate. An estate plan is your family’s safety net. Unfortunately, too many people attempt to take shortcuts with their plan, and find themselves with a safety net that is falling apart just when they need it most. Below are 5 of the most common missteps that can sabotage your estate plan, and how you can avoid them.
1. Neglecting to fund your trust. A trust can be a wonderful tool for protecting your assets; flexible and customizable, a useful trust can be created for just about every situation. But a trust is like a strongbox—if you don’t fill it up it has nothing to protect. Accounts and assets must be put in the name of your trust for it to work as you’ve designed it to.
2. Not enlisting the help of an estate planning attorney. There are a number of Do-It-Yourself will and estate planning programs out there that promise you a full estate plan for a cheaper price; but estate plans are complicated things, requirements change depending on your state of residence, the size of your estate, the age and situation of your beneficiaries, and much more. If you aren’t able to work with an attorney to create your plan, at the very least we urge you to have an attorney review your plan before you sign it.
3. Neglecting to mention previous estate planning documents, or making unofficial changes in the margins of documents that have already been signed. When creating a will or a trust or any other common estate planning document it is usually necessary to revoke any previous documents so there is no confusion about which document is current and valid. Neglecting to do this can end with your assets tied up in probate court for months or years—or even worse, invalidating both documents completely.
4. Putting your plan somewhere safe—somewhere so “safe”, in fact, that nobody can find or access it! People recognize that estate planning documents are things of value, and as such should be protected in a locked filing cabinet or safe deposit box. Wherever you choose to store your documents, be sure one or two trusted individuals have not only the knowledge of where the documents are, but also the ability to access them. An estate plan does no good if it cannot be accessed when it’s needed.
5. And finally, one of the most common missteps that can sabotage your estate plan is failing to update your plan regularly. Not only do federal and state laws change periodically (as we have recently experienced) but you will undoubtedly experience changes in your own life and fortune. Failing to update your plan to keep up with the law or with your own life can result in an estate plan that is as useful as a car you neglected to maintain—it may look fine on the outside, but it simply won’t run anymore.