Creating a living will is an exercise in facing one's own mortality and that isn't easy for most people. But the effects of botching an estate plan or forgetting to set one up altogether can be disastrous for generations in your family.
NEW YORK — Creating a living will is an exercise in facing one’s own mortality and that isn’t easy for most people. But the effects of botching an estate plan or forgetting to set one up altogether can be disastrous for generations in your family.
To avoid bungling your estate planning, avoid these mistakes, says Brad Levin, founder of Legacy Wealth Partners, a financial-planning consultancy in Encino, Calif.
• No plan. “The biggest mistake people make is failing to do anything,” Levin says.
Some fail to set up an estate plan because they don’t think they need one (“my estate is small enough that it doesn’t require planning”), or they tend to underestimate the expenses related to a protracted battle in probate court if they fail to specify beneficiaries.
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But the fees associated with asset distribution by the court can be very high, starting at 4 or 5 percent in most cases. (Probate laws are specific to states; for example, in California, probate is necessary only for estates exceeding $100,000.)
Another reason that people fail to create a living will may be that they’re simply not sure how they want their assets distributed, Levin says. What they don’t realize is that living wills are revocable and can be amended as many times as needed.
• Do-it-yourself plan. The adage that “the lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client” may apply equally to estate planning.
Anyone can gather raw data from the Internet and attempt an estate plan, but any fees saved will often cost you twice the level because of a poorly laid-out plan.
A frequent faux pas in a do-it-yourself plan is using out-of-date documents.
“Laws change all the time, so a new law you may be unaware of can adversely affect your estate,” Levin says.
Other common mistakes include poorly written documents, improper beneficiary designations and inadequately executed power-of-attorney paperwork.
• Unfunded plan. This happens when one has laid out a well-crafted estate plan but has forgotten to title and transfer his or her assets into it (also known as funding).
A lot of attorneys fail to fully assist their clients with this, instead giving them a list of funding “chores” that may leave people bogged down in reams of confusing documents.
According to Levin, “The larger estate people have, the harder it is to get professional advice, because a lot more things are at stake.”