Estate planning is more popular than ever before, as more individuals and families discover the importance of protecting their hard-earned assets and securing their future against unforeseen occurrences. Unfortunately, that increased popularity has not always been accompanied by any sort of concerted effort to educate people about what sound estate planning actually looks like. To make matters worse, the internet has provided an opportunity for misinformation and misconceptions to spread, resulting in a variety of estate plan mistakes that could leave wills, trusts, and other estate planning tools less effective than they should be. The good news is that you can avoid mistakes with an experienced Port St. Lucie estate planning attorney.
Common Last Will Mistakes
Far too many people apparently believe that just having a Last Will and Testament will keep their estates out of probate. Wills don’t determine whether probate is needed. Probate is used for all assets that don’t automatically transfer to your beneficiaries. If you want to avoid probate, an attorney can help you ensure that your assets won’t be subject to the probate process.
Some people even die without a will. Even now, some estimates suggest that fewer than half of all American adults have a will. Without estate planning, however, your last wishes will be of no consequence in determining where your assets go when you die. Instead, the state’s intestate laws will come into play.
Another common mistake is seen in the selection of the executor. Under Florida law, there are restrictions in place to prevent certain classes of people from serving as an executor. For example, no one who has ever had a felony conviction can serve in that role. Without an attorney’s help, you could end up with a court selecting your executor for you.
Common Living Trust Mistakes
Trusts can be just as problematic, especially for people who try to create them on their own. It is surprising to see how many estate plans fail to include protections to limit estate tax liability. In other instances, people simply fail to properly fund a trust. When that happens, property that you should have transferred into the trust to keep it out of the courts when you die will end up subject to the probate process. If your trust is not funded, it really serves no purpose.
There’s also the problem of trustees who turn out to be less trustworthy than you expected them to be. Even some trustworthy individuals simply lack the basic skills needed to perform their duties. One of the biggest mistakes can involve appointing someone who has a habit of suffering from financial mismanagement. Remember, someone who is continually falling behind on his or her financial obligations may not be the best person to entrust with your wealth.
Common Power of Attorney Mistakes
The most common mistake in this area should be clear: not having any power of attorney in place. If you don’t have a medical power of attorney and durable financial power of attorney created, then who do you expect to make your decisions in the event that you lose the capacity to do so yourself? If you think that your spouse or another loved one will be able to just step right in and make those important decisions, guess again! If you fail to designate someone to wield these powers during your incapacitation, then a court will.
Some people also assume that the power of attorney they create will empower their chosen agent to continue to act in that capacity when they die. In reality, any authority your agent enjoys during your incapacitation will abruptly end when you take your last breath.
That mistake can pale in comparison to choosing the wrong agent, however. Unfaithful agents can take advantage of your trust to enrich themselves with your assets. Make certain that you carefully consider any agent candidate before you provide them with that sort of authority.
The Mistake of Not Having a Living Will
Some people assume that their Last Will and Testament is the same as a Living Will. The two are not even remotely similar. Your Living Will, along with other medical directives provides instructions about your desired level of medical care, treatments that you are willing to accept, and issues like life-sustaining medical support. You need a Living Will even if you have a medical power of attorney in place, if only to ensure that your chosen agent has clear instructions about your care.
Doing it on Your Own and Failing to Review
The two biggest mistakes, however, just might be made by those who either try to manage their estate plan creation on their own or who create a plan and then never revisit it. We’ve all seen those do-it-yourself (DIY) form wills and trusts on the internet. Many are free, and that can be an attractive idea for anyone who just wants to complete his estate planning without any cost or hassle. The problem is that a DIY Last Will or trust just opens the door to a rash of potential problems. In almost every instance, people with self-created wills and trusts might just as well forgo estate planning altogether. Get professional legal help to ensure that everything is done right.
A failure to review and update your plan can be just as damaging. Face it; your life is one never-ending series of changes, and those changes are going to impact the viability of your estate planning efforts over time. Estate plans need to be reviewed on a regular basis, and after every important life change that you encounter. Did you get married? Time to review that plan. Having your first child? Time to dust off the plan again. Buy a new piece of property? You get the picture…
Fortunately, you don’t have to do any of this alone. With an experienced and committed Port St. Lucie estate planning attorney, you can get the guidance and assistance you need to ensure that all of these common mistakes – and many others as well – are avoided. To get the protection and planning you need and the estate planning expertise you deserve, contact us online or give us a call at (772) 398-0720 today.