couple signing estate plan

Common Estate Planning Mistakes

Estate planning mistakes are all too common. The best way of avoiding them is to engage the services of a highly qualified estate planning attorney. If you live in Southeastern Massachusetts or Cape Cod, Surprenant & Beneski, P.C. has several talented attorneys well-prepared to assist you. Each of us is adept at creating an estate plan customized to your particular needs. We have extensive experience in establishing plans that are legally binding, cover all the bases, and protect everything you hold dear. If you already have an estate plan that seems incomplete or flawed, we will assist you in making the necessary changes. 

Remember: the estate planning attorney you choose must be sufficiently well-versed in the intricacies of taxation, long-term healthcare, wills and trusts, probate, special needs planning, and all other areas that will be impacted by the way your estate plan is drafted. Below are some of the serious mistakes made by those who attempt to craft their own plans with forms downloaded from the internet or by those who hire lawyers who are not up to the task. 

1. Failing to Create an Estate Plan

Estate planning is a complex process. Those who are unaware of this fact may put it off, thinking it’s a simple matter that can be handled in the future; those who are aware may procrastinate because the project seems daunting. Either way, putting off estate planning is extremely risky, not only for you but for those you love. 

One of the things that defines you as a responsible adult is seeing to it that you have planned for the future, conscious of the fact that the future is unpredictable. This means protecting your assets, providing for your loved ones, and making important decisions about the retirement you look forward to and the possible incapacity you dread. A knowledgeable estate planning attorney will make sure that you have all the proper estate planning basic documents to ensure that:

  • Your beneficiaries are designated
  • Your minor children are assigned a guardian you choose if you die prematurely
  • Your assets are protected 
  • You have planned to protect special needs or spendthrift heirs
  • You have chosen a health care proxy
  • You have planned for long-term care if you become incapacitated
  • You have made your end-of-life care wishes known

2. Waiting Too Long to Plan for the Future

Intention to plan for the future will not save you or your family if a calamity befalls you at a young age. Delaying the process of estate planning may well mean allowing the court to make decisions instead of you. It may mean that your medical treatment if you become incapacitated is not what you wish or that a dear friend you wanted to provide for is not included as one of your beneficiaries. If you suffer a catastrophic injury or become severely ill, all of your assets may be used up in your long-term care instead of being distributed to your loved ones unless you have made plans to remain eligible for government benefits. These are only some of the disastrous consequences that may follow failing to create an estate plan while you’re still young.

3. Assuming Loved Ones Will Automatically Do What You Want

It is a mistake to think that just because your family members are close to you emotionally they understand exactly what you want done, especially when they are overwhelmed by worry or grief after your death.  A sharp and compassionate estate planning attorney will create definitive documents to make certain your wishes are known and carried out. Unless your spouse sees your words in black and white, for example, he or she may not realize that you do not want to be resuscitated if you are at the end of your life, or that you want a memorial rather than a funeral.  

4. Failing to Update Your Estate Plan Regularly

Life is full of changes and estate plans must be altered to reflect significant occurrences in your life. If your estate plan is not updated to consider these changes, you risk disinheriting someone you love, leaving the bulk of your estate to an ex-spouse, leaving a large sum of money to an heir who is a spendthrift, or not taking advantage of a change in the tax code. Changes that have to be taken into account include:

  • Relocation to another state
  • Purchase of property or a second home
  • Business creation, purchase or sale
  • Birth or adoption of a baby
  • Death or incapacity of a close family member
  • Marriage or divorce
  • Remarriage and possibly becoming a stepparent
  • Changes in tax or inheritance laws
  • Recognition that your child has special needs or special talents
  • Awareness that an heir has a substance abuse, gambling, or overspending problem

As long as you are working with a reliable estate planning attorney with an excellent skill set, you can rest assured that she or he will keep you updated with current information about any new laws relevant to your estate plan. In addition, your attorney will meet with you on a regular basis to make sure you impart any changes in your life that require alterations of your estate plan.

5. Impractical Ownership of Assets

Without the help of an experienced estate planning attorney, people often find themselves financially penalized for improper ownership of assets. At Surprenant & Beneski, we take the time to look closely at the specifics of your finances to find the best ways to protect your assets from:

  • Excessive taxation
  • Creditors and lawsuits
  • Predatory lenders
  • Scams or fraudulent schemes
  • Long-term medical and nursing care costs
  • Expensive probate 

Depending on your particular situation, this often involves creating trusts, revocable and/or irrevocable, that take assets out of your name, having you own property jointly with your spouse, and/or incorporating your business.

©Surprenant & Beneski, P.C. 35 Arnold Street, New Bedford, MA 02740, 336 South Street,   Hyannis MA 02601 and 45 Bristol Drive, Easton MA 02375.  This article is for illustration purposes only.  This handout does not constitute legal advice.  There is no attorney/client relationship created with Surprenant & Beneski, P.C. by this article.  DO NOT make decisions based upon information in this handout.  Every family is unique and legal advice can only be given after an individual consultation with an elder law attorney.  Any decisions made without proper legal advice may cause significant legal and financial problems.