In estate planning, as with many things in life, the “devil is in the details.” The difference between success and failure may be the seemingly tiniest of specifics. Once you've decided to take control of your legacy and create a plan, don't let the little things trip that plan up. Make sure that your planning covers all the details great and small in order to set your plan and your family up for success.
Renowned author Kurt Vonnegut was quoted as saying, “Enjoy the little things in life because one day you`ll look back and realize they were the big things.” That is good advice when it comes to enjoying life. Something similar is true with regard to estate planning. Make sure to pay attention to the little things in your estate plan, because you may find out later that they were the big things in ensuring your plan's success.
To help you as you contemplate planning your estate, here is a list of a few “little” things in estate planning that can have big impacts on the success or failure of your plan:
- Getting all of the documents you need. Lots of people understand the importance of getting an estate plan (even if they've procrastinated doing so.) However, some may think that getting an estate plan means just getting a will. While having only a will is often better than having nothing at all, very few, if any, estate plans would be truly “complete” with just a will. Your estate plan likely should include your will, your financial power of attorney, your healthcare power of attorney and your living will (if that is a separate document from a healthcare power of attorney in your state.) Many estate plans will be enhanced by the inclusion of one or more trusts, including a living trust. In some states, you can also create a legal document that spells out your desires for your funeral and/or other final arrangements planning. Each of these may help you accomplish all of your goals in a way that just a will cannot.
- Naming the proper number of agents and/or beneficiaries. Whether it is a will, a living trust, a power of attorney, a living will or a death beneficiary designation, there are ways to make sure that your plans will not fall victim to unexpected events. Life can be unpredictable and, sometimes, younger, healthier people die early and suddenly. An estate planning document with too few people named in it can have dire consequences. A death beneficiary designation with no eligible, surviving beneficiary could cause that asset to go into your probate estate and defeat whatever plans you may have had to avoid probate. A power of attorney with no surviving, eligible agents named in it may trigger the need for an expensive, time-consuming and stressful court proceeding to appoint a guardian or conservator. These and other major pitfalls can easily be avoided simply by naming multiple alternates to serve as an agent or a beneficiary in case you #1 preferred person dies or otherwise cannot fulfill that role.
- Not executing your plan properly. Many states have very specific laws regarding how an estate planning document must be signed in order to be considered valid and enforceable. Maybe you need one witness, two witnesses, a notary, a notary and witnesses or neither witnesses nor a notary. Regardless of what your state says you need to create a valid, legal document, you don't want to go to the effort of creating a plan only to have it fail because of a technical error related to execution. Your experienced estate planning attorney can help you make sure that the documents you sign are executed in a way that makes them enforceable under the law.