Updated: October 6, 2023
If your estate plan is not done properly, there may be consequences that can’t be corrected or easily fixed. Aside from not having an estate plan at all, there are many other basic errors you can make when planning and creating one:
There are a number of crucial steps you can take to prevent costly problems with your estate plan.
Estate plans are highly individualized and complicated. They cannot be done properly if you don’t consider your situation, inventory all of your assets, and research all of the options. This is true even if you hire a professional, since they need to know everything to make proper decisions and may not discuss all the options with you.
While you may feel obligated to divide the estate equally among your beneficiaries, for many reasons you may want to consider other distribution options. As a parent you know your children have different needs — they aren’t equally responsible, don’t have equal prospects or talents, and may have given or received different levels of help from you over the years.
If you choose to divide it unequally, do it in a way that is acceptable to your heirs.
A fair distribution focuses on providing equal opportunities for each heir, even though the amount is unequal.
An equitable distribution takes into account the beneficiaries involvement in the asset or what the asset is used for.
Your state will have its own inheritance, digital estate, estate and income tax laws, probate process, and rules for wills and trusts. You, or your estate planner, must know these details and make your estate plan reflect them.
If you are married, it is crucial to know if you live in a common law property state or a community property state, other state rules about joint ownership, and allowable transfer or payable on death options.
Your state may or may not have inheritance taxes and/or their own estate tax.
You are always better off going to an experienced estate planning lawyer or financial professional. They are more likely to:
Despite the fees, the money that can be saved in the long run is usually worth the expense.
In addition to the inheritance of specific beneficiaries, your will and/or trust needs a residuary clause to account for any assets you may have forgotten or not added to the estate plan yet.
No one expects to develop a long-term disability or a terminal illness, but your estate plan should account for it.
Account for unexpected deaths by designating contingent beneficiaries and back-up trustees or executors in case your primary choices die either before you or soon after.
There are many components to an estate plan and it’s important to carefully consider each one. Most estate planning tools are pretty flexible while you are alive, however there are many things that are difficult to change and even a few that can’t be at all, such as an irrevocable trust.
Most estate plans become fixed after your death, unless clauses are added to allow trustees or executors leeway to make any necessary changes resulting from evolving circumstances.
There are many considerations to make when you want to get your assets to the correct person, in the correct amount, in the most efficient and cost effective means possible, and in a way that is best for them.
The estate plan will be different depending on if they are your spouse, are a minor child, have trouble managing money, owe a lot of debt, are planning to go to college or get married, are married and have children, etc.
While it may be easy changing beneficiaries on a will or revocable living trust from a legal point of view, the emotional toll may be quite high.
Beneficiaries and co-owners will age over time and you may need to account for this. For example, if you want your:
It is most common to name a family member or trusted friend as your agent, but it may be best in some situations to choose a more objective third party.
While a high level of trust is the most crucial part of any trustee, there are other things to consider before finalizing your choice.
Assets in your will are transferred according to your wishes and you can include any level of detail in your instructions. While you can change these instructions while you are alive, they are fixed after your death. It may be important to consider the long-term effect of inheritance on your beneficiary and plan accordingly.
Even when you place your trust’s assets in the control of a trustee, you can still give explicit instructions about how the trustee manages them. Since a trust is a dynamic financial tool, providing details is a more difficult process and requires more thought and professional help.
Once you have an effective estate plan, it is important to realize that this may only be effective for a short period of time. An estate plan is a dynamic financial tool and evolves constantly, for many reasons.
To maintain an effective estate plan you must be aware of any and all changes that affect your estate and make any updates or changes to your plan to account for them. However, no changes can be made in an irrevocable trust.
You should review your estate planning documents and gifting strategies regularly and go over them with your attorney and/or financial professional to make sure everything is still appropriate to your goals.
The changes to your estate that will require immediate attention will generally fall into three categories:
In addition to unexpected deaths and disability, as you, your children, and other beneficiaries age or change over time it may have an effect on your estate plan.
Here are a few things to consider.
There will likely be other major life events such as birth, marriage, and divorce that could result in a major change or update of the beneficiaries and distribution of your estate. Some of these events may include change in relationships.
If handled well, your assets will increase in value over time as they grow and are added to. They may also decrease.
A job change can result in the need for an update. For example, they may have a better retirement plan than your existing one which may require a transfer into your new employer’s plan.
It is crucial to keep up with all applicable laws after your estate plan is created and research the state laws after moving to a different state, or before acquiring assets in or moving assets to a state you are not currently living in.
State laws are highly variable and you have to be aware of them.
Federal and state estate planning laws and the tax code are constantly changing.
Even if you don’t think there are any changes, you should review and consider revisiting your estate plan every 3 to 5 years.
Like anything to do with estate planning, you have to provide the correct documentation with the appropriate legal language for any changes. You may need to have some of them witnessed and/or notarized before they are valid.
An often overlooked part of estate planning is communicating with all the people named in your estate plan. Talking with them can ensure a smooth transition during the difficult period after your death, while surprises can create a lot of problems.
The two most important things to do are providing your agent (executor, trustee, and/or guardian) with all the details necessary to understand the level of their responsibility and discussing your plans with your family.
Your agent should know exactly what you are asking and expecting from them. This will allow them to both consider whether they will be able to fulfill the role and to carry it out according to your wishes.
Aside from preventing the agent from coming across unexpected duties, you can adapt the agent’s role to their preferences such as whether or not they want the power to override your instructions on how to handle and distribute your assets if a reason to do so develops.
Communicating your wishes to your family and beneficiaries has many benefits.