If you have ever gone online to find estate planning tips, you likely were bombarded with articles telling you what you should do instead of what you shouldn’t do. If you haven’t, do a quick Google search for “estate planning tips” to see for yourself. While it is helpful to have all of this information right at your fingertips, the downside is that you might never know whether something is actually a bad idea. So, in an effort to save you some time and money, this article takes a different approach by providing five tips for what NOT to do when it comes to estate planning.
#1 Don’t hide your documents.
You don’t have to share any of your estate planning documents, but you also don’t have to hide them. In fact, estate planning professionals see far too many cases where family members are completely unaware that their loved one created an estate plan.
There is nothing that prevents you from sharing your estate planning documents while you’re still alive. Particularly, advance medical directives should be shared during your lifetime. Everything else can remain in the portfolio you receive after your estate plan is finalized. However, family members should still know where that portfolio is located as they may need to find it in a hurry one day. This means that estate planning documents should not go into your safe deposit box. It is recommended that these documents are kept in an obvious place in your home.
#2 Don’t write on the documents.
Life happens, and it is normal for someone to want to make changes to their estate plan after it has been executed. However, under no circumstances should you make those changes yourself by writing directly on the documents.
In the eyes of the law, scribbled changes on an estate planning document are almost always ineffective, even if your intended edits are completely clear. This can also increase the likelihood of a legal challenge to your estate plan, resulting in unnecessary attorney’s fees and other costs.
The same rule applies even if you just want to mark the desired changes for your attorney to make. Please put down the pen. Estate planning attorneys are qualified to understand the changes that their clients want to make and will be able to implement them without a marked-up document.
#3 Don’t assume your spouse will handle everything.
Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that your spouse will be able to handle your affairs if something were to happen to you. It is possible that your spouse may be incapacitated at the same time; for example, if you are both injured in the same accident. A proper estate plan eliminates this risk by appointing alternate representatives to handle your affairs if both you and your spouse are unable to do so.
#4 Don’t wait.
There’s no time like the present to get moving on your estate planning goals. You need to weigh all of your estate planning decisions carefully and objectively, so it’s best to tackle this subject while you are clear-headed and not facing difficult decisions.
Quite simply, the time to start getting your estate plan in order is now.
#5 Don’t assume you’re done.
While the majority of your “work” will be finished once you have every completed, signed estate planning document in hand, the truth is that your estate plan is living and breathing as long as you are.
You must update your documents whenever major life changes occur – births, deaths, marriages, divorces, property acquisitions – to ensure that your wishes are expressed and that your estate plan still includes everything (and everyone) you want to include.
You may want to review your documents annually around your birthday so you keep things current. Be sure to mark your calendar as you would for any other important event, and resist the urge to reschedule or cancel when the date arrives. Your future self will thank you.
To recap, there are five major “don’ts” of estate planning: (1) don’t hide your documents, (2) don’t write on the documents, (3) don’t assume your spouse will handle everything, (4) don’t wait, and (5) don’t assume you’re done. Remember, knowing what not to do is just as important as knowing what you should do.