In this critical COVID-19 time, you may be looking to create or update an estate plan such as a will. Garofalo Law Group wants you to avoid the common will mistakes detailed below. It may sound simplistic, but making sure you’ve let your heirs know where your inheritance plans and paperwork — and passwords — are and how to find them is one of the top will problems. How about the conventional wisdom of leaving each child an identical windfall in your will? That seems to make sense. But there’s a difference between an equal and an equitable inheritance.
These are just some of the mistakes that can pile up in wills. Let’s take a closer look at possible problems and what mistakes you should avoid.
The first will mistake to avoid – lack of communication and planning
For example, your heirs might not know where to find your estate plan and paperwork. We see this all the time. Even if your children know that you have a safe deposit box in a bank, they may not know which bank or where to find the key. And if they’re not listed with the bank as having access to the box, they may need a court order to get it opened.
Create an in-case-of-emergency folder that provides your loved ones with the information they’ll need. This can include all information about where to find your estate documents. You should also include the information necessary to handle your banking, taxes, bills and other issues if you become incapacitated or pass away.
The second will mistake to avoid – poor division of assets
When each child has similar needs and is similarly situated in life, each child should receive the same amount from your estate. But when one child always loved the family beach house and is the only one still living near it, it may make sense to bequeath it to that one and give other assets to any other children. What about children with special needs? You wouldn’t want to harm any governmental benefits they may be getting. Trust me, I know all about this because of my daughter who has special needs.
Maybe one of your children is acting as your caregiver and you want to grant a reward for that devotion or to compensate for lost time and wages. In these scenarios, you’re following the equitable guideline. A blended family may change the dynamics of the divvying up as well. You want to make sure that you are properly dividing your assets in your estate plan because as stated below, it may not be as easy as 1/3 to all.
The third will mistake to avoid – vague or unclear terms
Another common error in wills is having unclear or vague language. Don’t write just that your jewelry should be divided among your children. This kind of imprecise language can end up causing a rift among siblings if more than one wants the same brooch.
Sometimes a will specifies that the deceased had a verbal agreement with an heir to share the money with another family member. Without specific language in place, there’s no guarantee that your heir will do what you ask. Beware of informal agreements created to protect assets for minors. These often don’t work. For situations like that, it’s preferable to create a trust such as a living trust.
The fourth will mistake to avoid – failing to update beneficiary information
We constantly remind our clients to avoid the mistake of having an old or unwanted beneficiary. So, don’t forget to update your will. Sadly, this happens all the time. Relationships change. Loved ones die or perhaps you get divorced. Maybe your child was diagnosed with a disability or has special needs and this occurred after you executed an estate plan.
Make sure you’re not unintentionally leaving money to ex-spouses, estranged siblings, or deceased relatives. You should also update beneficiaries on 401(k) and IRA accounts.
Even well-planned estates can cause problems. The important thing to remember is you have a right to divide your wealth as you choose. Just be aware that you need to be clear about what you intend.
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