As financial advisors we often come across mistakes in a client or prospect's estate plan. Here is a list of the mistakes we see most often.
1.) Not having an estate plan at all or assuming that they are only for the very wealthy
Everyone should have some kind of estate plan in place.
2.) Not having proper advanced directives in place
Powers of attorney for finances and healthcare are absolutely essential for estate planning. Without these documents in place when unexpected health care needs occur family or friends may not know what to do or be able to do anything at all on your behalf. This applies to spouses as well. Without the proper financial power of attorney in place spouses cannot make changes in each other's accounts. This means if you have an IRA and something happens to you making you unable to handle your own accounts your spouse will not be able to access that account or make any changes in it without a proper financial power of attorney.
3.) Not funding trusts
Clients often spend time and money setting up trusts for various reasons: reducing estate taxes, providing for a family member with special needs, controlling the distribution of assets to beneficiaries, etc. However creating the trust is not enough. If a trust has provisions for a particular asset then that asset should be owned by the trust. If it is not owned by the trust then it will not be subject to the trusts provisions.
4.) Not updating an estate plan when circumstances change
Estate planning is not a one and done endeavor. Whenever a significant life event occurs: marriage, divorce, birth of children or grandchildren, inheritance etc. a client should re-evaluate their estate plan to see if there are any changes or updates that need to be made. It is a good idea to review your estate plan every few years to make sure it still aligns with your goals.
5.) Not keeping beneficiary designations up to date
Just as stated above, when a significant life event happens clients need to look at all of their accounts and make sure that their beneficiary designations are updated as necessary.
6.) Not understanding the documents
It's very important to educate yourself on your estate plan and ensure that you understand what documents you have and what they all mean so that you can be sure they are properly set up to do what you want them to do. Although we are not attorneys, we are happy to help you review your estate planning documents. Just give us a call.