While all last wills are unique, the same mistakes seem to occur that can be avoided. When talking with many of those who have a will, many concerns were discussed that seem to be universal.
Not understanding the plan.
Too often clients have left their estate planner having signed a Last Will claiming, “I have no idea what I just signed”. Estate planning attorneys reported that attorneys said they believed a high percentage of the last will estate plans they prepared were not fully implemented because their clients didn’t understand the details of the last will that were documented. Frankly speaking, they were intimidated, overwhelmed, and were not thinking clearly under the pressure to make such serious final decisions. They were spending a lot of money and could not think in a relaxed state of mind.
One of the benefits of doing a Last Will and Testament online is the lack of pressure. Even more importantly is the ability to change and update your will from your home, and not pay attorney’s fees for every change. Circumstances constantly change throughout life and those must be updated in a Will.
Not keeping your Will current
Outdated beneficiary designations.
Many people are unaware they cannot designate who inherits certain assets in a will. Certain assets have separate beneficiary designation forms that determine who inherits those assets. These assets include retirement accounts, annuities, and life insurance. Failure to update those beneficiary designations means an asset may go to a parent, sibling, ex-spouse, stepchild, or even a deceased person because that’s what you put on the form years ago when you first opened the account. It may be possible that someone who you would currently want to receive that inheritance would be inadvertently excluded because they were born or married into the family after you completed the beneficiary form.
Make certain you review your beneficiary designations after every major life change every year.
Failing to update asset ownership.
You might own some assets in your own name and others in a joint title with your spouse, an adult child, or someone else. Some assets might be in limited partnerships, trusts, or other vehicles.
Just like beneficiary designations, these too need to be reviewed. Has something changed in your situation or the laws? Be sure to review your plans to make sure they are current.
Failure to fund revocable trusts.
Many estates include a revocable trust, also known as a living trust. In order for a revocable trust to have any value, it must be funded. Assets must be moved over, and legal title must be transferred to the Trust.
The assets owned by the trusts do avoid probate, yet in general, it cannot really save an individual any more taxes than a Will.
Not updating powers of attorney.
Powers of attorney should be included in every estate plan. One Power of Attorney (POA) for financial matters and one for medical direction (often called an ‘advance medical directive’). The Power of Attorney documents are two separate documents. It is not uncommon to have the same POA for both.
Storing your Will in the “right” place
Too often a will is written and then carefully stored in a ‘safe’ place. That safe place has left too many families in frantic treasure hunt mode trying to locate where that ‘safe’ place might be. So, what are ‘Safe Places” to store a will? Here are some thoughts to consider when storing a will.
In your home…what if:
- Someone else is cleaning out your belongings when settling your estate and inadvertently discards it?
- Access is too easy, the wrong person (who may have been disinherited) gets their hands on it and it mysteriously disappears.
- A family member has no idea that your will is in a file folder (Folder, what name is the folder?), strong box (where is the strong box?, or in your freezer (Freezer, where did you get that idea?).
- What if you have a fire or flood in your home and no one knows your will was destroyed?
- If you keep your will in any kind of safe in your home, how will your loved ones get into the safe?
With your attorney?
- When you use an attorney to write your will, he/she may keep the original, or a duplicate. They may even keep a digital copy (not accepted in most states). Years later you update you will. Now two attorneys have copies of your will. Most attorneys won’t hold an original, due to liability. The few that do, may charge a fee.
- If your family can only remember the first attorney, then that will be the Will that prevails, even though it was not intended to be.
- What if your family forgets who the attorney is?
- What if the attorney passes before you do? Will your family know to contact the Law Board to find out where the attorney’s files are stored?
Safe Deposit Box?
While a safe deposit box sounds safe and secure, it is difficult to get access to right after you pass. Once the bank is aware of your passing, they may secure the box and require a court order to open it.
With a friend or relative?
Since life is so uncertain, it is certainly not guaranteed that your friend or relative will out-live you. What if you don’t speak to that friend or relative anymore? What if they pre-decease you? How will your children know ‘which’ friend or relative?
In the Cloud
Technology now offers “the cloud”! Since there are so few states that recognize digital wills, digital is not a safe alternative, yet. Most states still require the ‘hard’ copy. There’s nothing like the real thing, baby!
Do it Yourself Wills
Don’t write your own will on your computer! There are many elements that are required in a will in or to be accepted by the courts. Too often there are critical things that need to be incorporated in a will that can be missed doing it alone. In addition, if you write your Last Will on your computer, it would be too easy for someone to alter it or even delete it.
There are a few free online wills available that are very similar to the ones used by attorneys. Having an online will account allows you to take your time in a relaxed atmosphere and think clearly without pressure about what assets you have, and what your final wishes are. Most importantly, you can update them anytime, without attorney fees, so that your wishes remain current.
If you have complicated circumstances and you feel you need more guidance about , it would not be advisable to write your own will. Most importantly, it is always better for you, and your family to have a Will.
So where is the ‘best’ place to store your will?
The best place to store your will remains uncertain. All sources available have their pros and cons. What is certain is that registering your will can help greatly help mitigate your will not being found when needed.
Not being able to locate a will after losing a loved one leads to unnecessary legal fees and serious family disputes. It leaves your loved ones with one last agonizing question, “Is there a will, (and then), where is it?” While registration of a will is a simple concept and process, it fulfills a critical need at a time when families are already emotionally torn.
An online registry does not hold a copy of your will. More importantly, it documents the location of the will. The contents of the registry are not disclosed unless a death certificate and ID is presented. Once the documentation is received, your registered information is given to an attorney to release to the family. This gives you assurance knowing nothing is released prior to your passing.
Wherever your original, or duplicate are, it is documented in the registration. Your registration also allows you to list who is entitled to access your registered information. As you change the location of your will, or attorney, you are always able to update your registration.
Registration allows your will to remain private, yet accessible when needed. A Registration Certificate is issued with your registration that allows you to keep in your records and can be stored with your important papers. Most importantly, you should tell everyone that you are registered. This simple safeguard greatly assures you the peace of mind you intended in creating a will in the first place.