Likely one of the top estate planning mistakes is not making a plan. But if you’re reading this, you understand the benefits of planning your estate and want to avoid some of the common pitfalls that may create challenges for your beneficiaries.

The Cedar Rapids estate planning lawyers of Arenson Law Group, PC have decades of experience and can help you develop your willtrusts, charitable bequests, and powers of attorney to protect your rights and your estate. These are five of the most common mistakes we see people make. If you have pressing questions, don’t hesitate to contact us immediately.

Properly Name Your Beneficiaries

This is an easily overlooked mistake when you set up a retirement plan, or you’re switching investment companies. Adding a beneficiary to the account helps the money avoid probate and pass directly to the beneficiary. When an account has a properly listed beneficiary, it can override what’s in the will or a living trust.

Another mistake is naming an individual who will still be a minor when you die as a beneficiary. Minors do not have the legal authority and so must have a court-appointed guardian to supervise and manage the assets. To avoid this mistake, you can name the guardian for a minor child in your will.

Take care as you are considering and naming your beneficiaries that you have the right names and contact information. When a person’s name legally changes, such as after a marriage or divorce, make the necessary changes to the legal documents.

Estate Planning Is More Than Making a Will

The last will and testament might be the most well-known part of estate planning documentation, but it’s not the only piece of the puzzle. There are several tools and strategies you can use to ensure that your assets are distributed effectively and the way you want them to be.

Estate planning includes working with your financial advisor and accountant, discussions with your family, and developing a plan with your estate planning attorney. Some planning documents may have nothing to do with asset distribution but are still part of your estate plan. For example, you may designate powers of attorney, have a living will, and appoint guardianships and conservatorships.

Secure Your Documents

Your estate plan is only effective if people know where the documents are and can access them. For example, let’s say you develop a strong relationship with your neighbor, and you care for him through his illness. He intends to leave you something in his will but does not put his will in a place where his family knows where to find it.

After his death, no one can locate the documentation, so his estate will go through the state, which will distribute his assets to his nearest living relatives, and you’ll get nothing. When you do your estate planning, be sure your documents are stored in a safe place and your executor and attorney have copies. Keep a copy in a safe deposit box, which can be found and accessed after you die. Should you need to know more, reach out to Arenson Law Group, PC today.

Don’t Keep Secrets

One of the most difficult things for your family to deal with after your death is to learn that the contents of your will are not what they anticipated. It’s crucial that you make your feelings known to your executor and your beneficiaries before you die.

If you feel that your wishes could cause conflict with your family or your beneficiaries, explain in a letter why you made your decisions and send it to each of the beneficiaries so everyone is operating with the same information. This may help reduce or eliminate disputes after your death.

Don’t Forget …

Estate planning is not a “set it and forget it” legal document. With every major life event, the estate plan needs to be updated. If your goals change or public policy changes, your estate plan must be updated. For example, wills, trusts, and powers of attorney are driven by state law. If you move to a new state, these documents must be updated, or they will not be executed after your death.

It’s crucial that you do not forget to plan for potential disability or long-term care as you create your estate plan. Another mistake people make is failing to update their beneficiaries on things like retirement accounts and insurance policies. These beneficiary forms are legally binding documents. Even if you change your will, failure to update your beneficiary forms means that your assets may go to someone from your past. Also, don’t forget to consider estate taxes and the impact of income taxes on you and your beneficiaries.

Contact Arenson Law Group, PC Today for Your Estate Planning Needs

It’s easy to overlook some of the small changes in your estate plan that can have a large impact on your beneficiary. When you work with the legal team at Arenson Law Group, PC, our experienced estate planning attorneys will help answer your questions and ensure that your assets are distributed efficiently, and to the beneficiaries you select.

Call the office at (319) 363-8199, or reach out to us online today and schedule your initial consultation. We’ll answer your questions and offer you advice on your next best steps.

Written by James H. Arenson

Last Updated : January 20, 2023