Ten Most Common Estate Planning Mistakes
Tackling estate planning tends to be at the bottom of nearly everyone’s to-do list.  After all, not many people enjoy spending time contemplating their own mortality. But after you make the time to do it and feel the sense of accomplishment that comes with checking that off your bucket list, wouldn’t be a shame to learn you made a mistake?  Here are ten common mistakes people make when undertaking their estate planning.  

1. Failing to update your plan
It’s not uncommon for people to do an estate plan, relish in the sense of accomplishment, then pat themselves on the back and toss their documents into the filing cabinet, never to look back again.  What they don’t understand is that estate planning is not an event--  it is a process.  As life circumstances change, your estate plan should be modified too.  Plans should be reviewed at least every five years and with every major life change—like the birth of a child,  a move, or a divorce.   

2. Overlooking digitial assets 
So you’ve accounted for all your assets, liabilities,  and beneficiaries.  You’re done, right?  Not so fast.  Did you remember to include your digital assets?  This includes any documents, pictures, or other information you may have stored in the cloud or on a computer.  It also includes passwords to access these things.  Have you considered what you would like to happen to your social media accounts? Facebook, for example, has options to memorialize, delete, or simply leave your account unchanged.  You are also allowed to designate a “legacy contact” who can pin a post on your timeline after your death, such as a funeral announcement.  Along with your estate planning documents, be sure to include a list of all your digital accounts along with their passwords.  Also, be sure to include specific instructions for how you would like your social media to be handled.   

3. Forgetting the family pet
Sometimes with all the thought that goes into providing for children and other loved ones, people overlook the furry members of their family.  The fact is, if you have not planned for your pets, you run the risk that they will be placed in a shelter or euthanized when you are no longer around to care for them.  When doing your estate planning, be sure to at least leave something in writing that outlines your wishes for your furry friends.  Or, even better, consider establishing a pet trust.  These special trusts set aside funds that are to be used for the care and maintenance of the furry friends you love.  

4. Selecting an inappropriate trustee 
The trustee is the fiduciary you choose to manage your trust and distribute your assets according to your wishes.  Sometimes people do not put nearly enough thought into the person they select as their trustee.  They may choose the older child, simply “because they are the oldest,” or an old family friend because “we’ve known him forever.”   You should never choose a trustee solely because they are the oldest, you’ve known them the longest, or because you think they’re “nice.”  Being a trustee can be a hard job.  Trustees must keep impeccable records, and be beyond reproach ethically.  They sometimes are called upon to make tough choices in the midst of clamoring beneficiaries.  Your trustee needs to be familiar with the demands that will be required and feel that he/she is up to the task.  Sometimes people overlook professional fiduciaries since they think they will cost too much.  The truth is, any fiduciary is entitled to compensation for the work they do in their fiduciary role.  Professional fiduciaries have much to offer in the way of expertise.  They can often do things in far less time than a lay fiduciary could, and they have access to resources that lay fiduciaries may not even know about.  

5. Failing to plan for incompetence 
A will or trust is designed to distribute your assets upon your death.  However, a comprehensive estate plan will plan for much more than what happens when you die.  Equally important to your will or trust are the documents that plan for potential incapacity--  in other words, an emergency situation in which you become incompetent and are unable to direct your own affairs or health care decisions.  Documents such as a durable power of attorney, living will, and health care power of attorney are essential to a complete estate plan and are just as important as a will or trust.  

6. Failure to coordinate non-probate assets with the entire plan  
Some assets, like life insurance, retirement proceeds, and annuities, pass to beneficiaries outside the scope of a will.  An estate plan should look at the big picture and take into account ALL your assets and how they will be distributed.  The distribution of these assets should be coordinated with the will and the entire estate plan as a whole.  

7. Failure to plan for contingencies 
Usually when people sit down to do their estate planning they envision the “logical” order of things.  Parents die first-- then children inherit.  But what if a child predeceases a parent?  What if an accident were to cause a child to become disabled?  What if you experience a divorce?   A well drafted estate plan covers these out-of-the-norm situations.  

8. Failure to retitle assets to a trust 
It’s not uncommon for folks to go to a lot of work to create a trust, and then once the documents are signed, to think they are done.  In actuality, a trust is not complete until all assets have been retitled in the name of the trust. Without any assets actually in the trust, the trust is really just like an empty shell.  If you establish a revocable trust, you must be sure to retitle your assets in the name of the trust.  Additionally, you should also have a “pour over” will.  This type of will transfers all other assets—such as jewelry and cars or anything you may have missed—into the revocable trust.    

9. Do it yourself planning  
With the advent of software programs and online “fill in the blank” services, more and more consumers contemplate doing their own estate planning.  The fact is, DIY estate planning should come with a warning label: “DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME.” Estate planning is a highly specialized field with many solutions to varied individual needs.  The laws surrounding estate planning are among the most rapidly changing in the legal field.  And what might be an acceptable method of estate planning in one state, may be completely invalid in another.   Consumer Reports studied three different DIY estate planning products and concluded that “all were inadequate unless a very simple plan was required, such as one that leaves everything to a spouse, with no other provisions.”  You wouldn’t perform something as complicated as surgery on yourself.  So why attempt to undertake something as complex as estate planning on your own.     

10. Not having an estate plan at all   
Estimates vary, but somewhere between 60-70% of adults have no estate plan in place.  With no will or trust in place, the state will intervene and distribute your assets according to state statute—which may not mirror your wishes.  Additionally, your estate may be subject to hefty state or federal estate taxes, which may have been avoided with a little planning.