For over twenty years, I’ve helped clients and their families plan their estates. I’ve heard many good reasons for planning, and I am invigorated by those who care for their loved ones enough to plan ahead. But I’ve also seen mistakes which are repeated by well-intentioned people. Here are some of the most common mistakes:
- “I’ll think about it.” It’s not uncommon for me to meet with clients whose “to do” lists have included estate planning for ten or more years. When I ask the clients why they haven’t done something sooner, they frequently tell me they have known they should do something, but have been unsure of “the right thing to do.” Often, after becoming aware of their planning options, those individuals still tell me, “I’ll think about it.” I’ve seen too many of these “plans” never materialize, much to the detriment of loved ones left behind.
- “I’ll do it myself.” My clients are intelligent people. Many have been successful in their own careers. Through much study, these good people could attempt to design their own estate plan and perhaps save a few dollars in legal fees. Without the specialized knowledge and experience, however, do it yourself estate plans rarely work to the client’s advantage, and legal fees to fix a DIY estate plan can easily dwarf any supposed savings in the design stage.
- “I’m done.” I’ve met some people who want planning their estate to be a one-time affair—an item to be checked off of their To-Do list. Oh that life were that simple! The reality is that circumstances, family and preferences change. That, coupled with changes in the law, mean you are never done with your estate plan—at least not until you die. Failing to regularly review your plan and update it, if necessary, can be a costly mistake.
- “My neighbor did it this way.” Estate planning should be as unique as each individual. While your neighbor’s plan may have worked for him or her, your situation (i.e. family, investments, estate size, health etc.) is likely different and will require a different plan. Even when your situations seem similar, the trained expert can ascertain the subtle differences which could have an enormous impact. Relying on your neighbor’s plan may not give you the same results it gave your neighbor.
- “I can’t afford it.” Let’s face it. Estate planning done right is not cheap, but it is less expensive than the cost of cleaning up a bad plan—or no plan at all.
- “I don’t need it.” Occasionally someone tells me they don’t have an estate plan because they don’t need one. They think they don’t have enough assets, are too young, or their personal situation is too simple. Unfortunately, I have witnessed many examples of the complications resulting from a death of a loved one who had no plan.
I have had many experiences over the years of sitting with loved ones of a client who has passed. While many emotions are present during that difficult time, there is usually some peace for the family whose loved one properly planned for his or her affairs. There is almost always an appreciation that the individual was conscientious of those who mourn his or her death. And while talking about and planning for death may have been, and often is, unpleasant, I find it ultimately to be an act of love.