January 9, 2012
Estate planning attorneys see a lot, whether on a small scale here in Northern California or by looking at the national and international media. Fortunately, the lessons learned from these observations can be applied to our own clients. There are some common estate planning mistakes that seem to be made over and over again, and a good attorney will help steer you clear of these pitfalls.
1. Making a Poor Choice for Executor – The executor of your will or estate is the person who will be in charge of seeing your wishes are met and may need to stay in charge all the way through the probate process. It’s very common for a spouse or oldest child to be named as the executor, which can certainly be a great choice. Keep in mind, however, that this isn’t just about making someone feel good. The executor has real work to do and must be able to make wise decisions regarding your estate, including the hiring of companies and institutions to manage funds when required. Not only does the executor need to have some business sense, but your estate planning attorney will also tell you that he or she needs to be highly trustworthy and organized. The executor holds a lot of power, and you want to ensure that it’s not being used either to advance one agenda or to exact revenge on others.
2. Forgetting to Change Documents after a Divorce – When a couple divorces, it’s generally safe to assume that neither ex wants the other to inherit his or her estate. Unfortunately, this can be precisely what happens if you don’t change your wills, trusts, insurance policies, retirement plans, etc. after a divorce has happened. Many, many people have been shocked to learn that their parent’s estate has passed to a former spouse who then has the power to do anything at all with it… including cutting out those who it would seem have a more legitimate claim.
3. Not Planning for Unmarried Partners – In this day and age, it’s quite common for unmarried couples to live together, whether due to personal preference, legal issues, or even a desire not to lose survivor benefits from a prior spouse. When one of the partners in this type of situation passes away, the other partner does not have the automatic protections that a married spouse would have. For example, even if the couple lived together in the same house for decades, if it isn’t in the surviving partner’s name, it becomes part of the estate to be passed on to heirs. These heirs can then force the surviving partner out, which estate planning attorneys see happen quite frequently when the deceased’s children didn’t approve of the relationship in the first place.
Of course, these are just a few of the major estate planning mistakes that one should take into consideration when setting up wills, trusts, and other legal documentation of his or her wishes. Working with an attorney here in Northern California will help you ensure that you are meeting all applicable laws and taking advantage of legislation that works in your favor.
Need help getting started? Please feel free to give our Fair Oaks wills and estates law firm a call at 916.241.9661 and ask if you qualify for a free Peace of Mind Planning Session ($750 value) with the mention of this article.