Common Estate Planning Mistakes to Avoid
Avoid Critical Estate Planning Mistakes

Common Estate Planning Mistakes to Avoid

Estate planning attorneys see them all the time: the mistakes that people make when they try to create an estate plan or a will by themselves. They learn about it, when families come to their offices trying to correct estate planning mistakes that could have been avoided just by seeking legal advice in the first place. That’s the message from the article “Five big estate planning ‘don’ts’” from Dedham Wicked Local.

Here are the five estate planning mistakes that you can easily avoid:

Naming minors as beneficiaries. Beneficiary designations are a simple way to avoid probate and be certain that an asset goes to your beneficiary at death. Most life insurance policies, retirement accounts, investment accounts and other financial accounts permit you to name a beneficiary. Many well-meaning parents (and grandparents) name a grandchild or a child as a beneficiary. However, a minor is not permitted to own an asset. Therefore, the financial institution will not name the minor child as the new owner. A conservator must be appointed by the court to receive the asset on behalf of the child and they must hold that asset for the minor’s benefit, until the minor becomes of legal age. The conservator must file annual accountings with the court reflecting activity in the account and report on how any funds were used for the minor’s benefit, until the minor becomes a legal adult. The time, effort, and expense of this are unnecessary. Handing a large amount of money to a child the moment they become of legal age is rarely a good idea. Leaving assets in trust for the benefit of a minor or young adult, without naming them directly as a beneficiary, is one solution.

Drafting a will without the help of an estate planning attorney. The will created at the kitchen table or from an online template is almost always a recipe for disaster. They don’t include administrative provisions required by the state’s laws, provisions are ambiguous or conflicting and the documents are often executed incorrectly, rendering them invalid. Whatever money or time the person thought they were saving is lost. There are court fees, penalties and other costs that add up fast to fix a DIY will.

Adding joint owners to bank accounts. It seems like a good idea. Adding an adult child to a bank account, allows the child to help the parent with paying bills, if hospitalized or lets them pay post-death bills. If the amount of money in the account is not large, that may work out okay. However, the child is considered an owner of any account they are added to. If the child is sued, gets divorced, files for bankruptcy or has trouble with creditors, that bank account is an asset that can be reached.

Joint ownership of accounts after death can be an issue, if your will does not clearly state what your intentions are for that account. Do those funds go to the child, or should they be distributed between heirs? If wishes are unclear, expect the disagreements and bad feelings to be directly proportionate to the size of the account. Thoughtful estate planning, that includes power of attorney and trust planning, will permit access to your assets when needed and division of assets after your death in a manner that is consistent with your intentions.

Failing to fund trusts. Funding a trust means changing the ownership of an asset, so the asset is owned by the trust or designating the trust as a beneficiary. When a trust is properly funded, assets funding the trust avoid probate at your death. If your trust includes estate tax planning provisions, the assets are sheltered from estate tax at death. You have to do this before you die. Once you’re gone, the benefits of funding the trust are gone. Work closely with your estate planning attorney to make sure that you follow the instructions to fund trusts.

Poor choices of co-fiduciaries. If your children have never gotten along, don’t expect that to change when you die. Recognize your children’s strengths and weaknesses and be realistic about their ability to work together, when deciding who will make financial decisions under a power of attorney, health care decisions under a health care proxy and who will best be able to settle your estate. If you choose two people who do not get along, or do not trust each other, it will take far longer and cost more to settle your estate. Don’t worry about birth order or egos.

The sixth biggest estate planning mistake people make, is failing to review their estate plan every few years. Estate laws change, tax laws change and lives change. If it’s been a while since your estate plan was reviewed, make an appointment to meet with your estate planning attorney for a review.

Learn about ways to avoid common estate planning mistakes.

Reference: Dedham Wicked Local (May 17, 2019) “Five big estate planning ‘don’ts’”

Make Sure Your Power of Attorney Works When Needed
Daughter Helping Mom With Power of Attorney

Make Sure Your Power of Attorney Works When Needed

If you present a POA (Power of Attorney) to a bank and the agents are described as Bill and Samantha, for instance, instead of Samantha or Bill, the bank clerk may bristle. John as agent under power of attorney with Mary as successor agent is more likely to be acceptable. The use of the word “and” in a POA often presents a problem to banks. Did the document get drafted with the intent that Bill and Samantha both be present for any transactions? Having the right power of attorney is critical.

In Pennsylvania, major changes were made to the POA law in 2014 that addressed wording, witnessing and other requirements and protections for the party accepting the POA. The “Vine fix” law describes what a bank, financial institution or other party who is presented with a POA can and cannot do. The “Vine fix” provides immunity to anyone who accepts a POA in good faith, without actual knowledge that the POA is invalid, says The Mercury in the article “Planning Ahead: Will your bank honor your power of attorney?”

This law came about as a result of a case, Vine v. Commonwealth of PA State Employees’ Retirement Board. A Pennsylvania State employee, who was incapacitated following a car accident and a stroke, was given a POA to sign by the man who was then her husband. He changed her retirement options and later filed for divorce. At issue was the question of whether Mrs. Vine could invalidate his option and file for disability benefits. She did not have legal capacity, when she signed the document.

This was a case of hard facts making bad law. The State Supreme Court found that a third party (the Pennsylvania State Employees Retirement Board) could not rely on a void power of attorney, even where it did not know it was void when it was accepted. Banks saw the decision and were concerned that they could be sued for damages in similar cases.

The new law offers some immunity and additional protections for banks. However, as a result, there’s a little more push back with banks recognizing agents under power of attorney. The bank can request an agent’s certification or affidavit or opinion of counsel, as to whether the agent is acting within the scope of his legal authority. There is still a civil liability for refusing to accept a power of attorney that meets all the requirements.

Some estate planning attorneys have their clients obtain Power of Attorney forms directly from the institutions. This decreases the chances of any problems, when POAs are presented. It’s also a good idea to update the POA when you update your estate plan, which should be every three or four years. Regardless of your state of residence, a POA dated 10 or 15 years ago is likely to meet with some scrutiny. Talk with your estate planning attorney about the best way to address this in advance.

Learn what a good power of attorney can do for you.

Reference: The Mercury (April 2, 2019) “Planning Ahead: Will your bank honor your power of attorney?”

Do I Need to Update My Estate Plan if I Move to a New State?
Estate Plan Should Be Revisited When Moving to Another State

Do I Need to Update My Estate Plan if I Move to a New State?

Anyone who moves to another state, for retirement, a new job or to be closer to family, needs to have a look at their estate plan to make sure it is valid in their new state, advises the Boca Newspaper in the recent article “I’ve Relocated To Florida…Should I Update My Estate Plan?”   If an estate plan hasn’t been created, a relocation is the perfect opportunity to get this important task done. Think of it as preparation for your new life in your new home.

Because so many retirees do relocate to Florida, there are some general rules that make this easier. For one thing, most wills that are valid in another state are recognized in Florida. There’s a specific law in the Florida statutes that confirms that “other than a holographic or nuncupative will, executed by a nonresident of Florida… is valid as a will in this state if valid under the laws of the state or country where the will was executed.”

In other words, if the estate plan was prepared by an estate planning attorney and is legally valid in the prior state, it will be valid in Florida. Exceptions are a holographic will, which is a handwritten will that is signed by the person with no witnesses, or a nuncupative will, which is a verbal statement made in front of witnesses.

However, just because your will is recognized in Florida, does not mean that it doesn’t need a review.

There are distinctions in Florida law that may make certain provisions invalid or change their meaning. In one well-known case, a will was missing one sentence—known as a “residual clause,” a catch-all that distributes assets that are otherwise not specified. The maker of the will wanted everything to go to her brother. However, without that one clause, property acquired after the will was created was not included. The court determined that the property that was acquired after the will was created, would go to other relatives, despite the wishes of the decedent.

Little details mean a lot when it comes to estate plans.

It’s important to ensure that the last will and testament properly expresses intentions under the laws of your new home state. As you review or begin the process, this might be the time to speak with your estate planning attorney about whether any trusts are applicable to your estate. A revocable living trust, for example, would avoid the assets placed in the trust having to go through probate.

This is also the time to review your Durable Power of Attorney, designation of a Health Care Surrogate, Living Will and nomination of a pre-need Guardian.

Estate planning gives peace of mind, knowing that the legal side of your life is all taken care of. It avoids stress and unnecessary costs and delays to your family. It should be reviewed and updated, if needed, at big events in your life, including a relocation, the sale or purchase of a home or when you retire.

Learn how a getting a revocable living trust in your new home state may be a good idea.

Reference: Boca Newspaper (May 1, 2019) “I’ve Relocated To Florida…Should I Update My Estate Plan?”