Estate planning is one of those things most people procrastinate until it’s too late, or else they hastily check boxes to get the excruciating experience over with. However, proper estate planning takes ample time and consideration to do right.
The right estate plan not only ensures that certain assets go to certain individuals, but it can actually maximize the value of an estate. Here are all the things most estate planners aren’t doing — but that absolutely need to be done for a secure, accurate transfer of assets.
1. Not Choosing the Right Executor
Often times, sentiment clouds an estate planner’s judgment when it comes time to name the executor of their estate. Most planners will elect their favorite friend or closest relative, despite the fact that person has no experience or few qualities to complete the task.
Though it may feel like a slight, it is far better to choose a person you know can complete the job accurately and thoroughly than risk your estate in the hands of an incompetent loved one.
2. Failing to Regularly Review Your Estate Plan
Estate planning can be both confusing and disheartening, and as a result, many planners only want to go through the process once. However, between the times when a plan is formed and when it is enacted, life continues to change, and the estate plan should change with it.
There will be births, deaths, marriages, divorces, and perhaps even acquisitions that may alter the suitability of one’s estate plan; some planners may even switch from wills to living trusts due to the tax benefits. Savvy estate planners should know to reread their plans every year or so to ensure their true wishes are preserved.
3. Not Planning for Disability
People are living much longer than they used to, but sometimes those extra few years are fraught with illness and disability, which an estate planner should anticipate.
A living trust can manage a person’s financial and personal decisions even while that person is alive and breathing, so an estate planner can be assured the proper care even before death.
4. Not Making Gifts
Estate taxes can be devastating, but shrewd estate planners can substantially diminish these taxes by allocating gifts in their estate plans. Per year per recipient, as much as $13,000 in gifts are free from taxation. Thus, by granting special attention to certain individuals or organizations, estate planners can safeguard more money for distribution in their accounts.
5. Deeding the House
Small monetary gifts are great, but estate planners should hesitate before writing anyone’s name on the deeds of their homes. Houses far exceed the $13,000 cap on gifts, which means the government is able to levy sizeable taxes on the beneficiary.
There are other ways to give the family home away after death without passing on years of financial struggle as well; inheritance taxes are usually more manageable than estate taxes.
6. Jeopardizing Life Insurance Policy
Proceeds from life insurance are also subject to hefty fines and taxes — unless estate planners organize a trust to collect on any life insurance payouts. With the trust acting as the owner of the life insurance policies, an estate planner’s survivors can immediately collect any proceeds without fear of IRS intervention.
7. Failing to Consider Divorce
The average age of divorce in America is 30 years, and most adults should have an estate plan set up well before then. However, divorce complicates most wills and trusts, which usually govern a couple’s joint assets, and if left unrevised, these outdated documents may send money to the wrong people.
It is easy enough to write in contingencies that restrict distribution of assets to non-family members, but it is far more advisable to craft a new estate plan as soon as a marriage ends.
8. Forgetting About Pets
Though they may be some of our closest friends and confidantes, our pets legally remain property, which means they must be addressed in an estate plan. Pets who aren’t spoken for after their owners pass often become lost to the local government’s animal control system.
Estate planners should directly stipulate who will care for their beloved beasts, and they may also consider devoting a small trust to their furry friends.