June 24

Avoid These 4 Common Estate Planning Pitfalls

If you’re a parent, you've always strived to provide the best for your family, ensuring their well-being and securing their future. However, even the most well-intentioned plans can falter if you overlook the complexities of estate planning. Let’s explore some common pitfalls that parents often encounter, then offer practical strategies to navigate them successfully.

Heads up before we dive in; I’ll provide some stories below that illustrate what happens when a parent hasn’t created an estate plan or hasn’t updated it over time. (The names of the people below are made up, but the scenarios I’ll describe are common.)

Pitfall #1: Procrastination

Even the most well-intentioned plans can fail if you overlook the complexities of estate planning. One of the most significant pitfalls is procrastination, or postponing the process under the assumption that you have ample time or that your assets are currently too modest to warrant formal planning. But the truth is that estate planning is crucial for individuals of all ages and asset levels! Unexpected events can occur at any time, leaving your loved ones in a bad situation if you haven't properly documented your wishes.

Take for example, John, a 45-year-old father of three, who put off creating a will, thinking he had decades ahead of him. You can’t really blame him, can you? Many of us are in the same boat. However, he passed away tragically and unexpectedly, leaving his family to deal with his affairs in the court process called probate. The probate process was lengthy, and his assets were frozen and unavailable for his kids until the court process played out. In addition, probate drained his assets, so there wasn’t as much to leave his kids in the end.

I doubt this is what John would have wanted.

So parents, to avoid the procrastination trap, it's essential to approach estate planning with a sense of urgency. Start the process as soon as possible, and review your plan regularly to ensure it remains aligned with your evolving circumstances and family dynamics (keep reading for more information on how I can help!).

Pitfall #2: Failing to Update Your Plan Over Time

This brings us to another pitfall: failing to update your plan after significant life events, such as marriages, divorces, births, or deaths. Life is inherently dynamic, and your estate plan should reflect those changes. Your plan should reflect your life as closely as possible, otherwise it could become ineffective or even invalid. And if that happens, you end up like John, even if you already have an estate plan.

Make a habit of reviewing your plan at least every three years, preferably annually, or whenever a major life event occurs. When you work with me, I will help you ensure your plan accurately reflects your current wishes and aligns with any changes in state or federal laws.

Pitfall #3: Not Communicating With Loved Ones

Contrary to common belief, estate planning is not solely about legal documents, such as a Will, Trust or Power of Attorney. Documents are merely the byproduct of good estate planning. The real power of estate planning is in having open and honest communication with your loved ones. However, many parents make the mistake of keeping their estate plans a closely guarded secret, leaving their families in the dark about their intentions and wishes. This lack of transparency can breed misunderstandings, conflicts, and resentments that can undermine the effectiveness of your plan and strain family relationships.

Let’s look at Darla’s story for a greater understanding. Darla, a successful business owner and loving mother, always assumed her oldest son would take over the family business after her passing. So Darla’s estate plan included a provision wherein her oldest son inherited the business. When Darla died, however, her son revealed that he had different career aspirations and didn’t want to run the business. This led to family conflict - because Darla didn’t have a “Plan B” in her estate plan.

As a result, the family had to go to probate court, spending lots of time, energy, attention, and money, to get the business transferred to the one family member who wanted to run the business. Had Darla discussed her wishes openly, the family could have addressed their concerns together and arrived at a mutually agreeable solution that would have saved them the unnecessary hassle of probate court.

So what can you learn from Darla’s story? Share your wishes with your family members, explain your reasoning, and address any concerns they may have. This open dialogue can foster a deeper understanding and strengthen the bond between you and your loved ones. It also allows your loved ones to provide valuable insights and perspectives that can help refine and improve your plan. What a loving gift to give your family!

Pitfall #4: Not Working With a Professional

The last pitfall I’ll address is doing it yourself, or doing your plan cheaply online. As I pointed out above, estate planning is not just about creating a few documents and putting them away on a shelf until something happens. There’s much more to it.

Instead, work closely with an estate planning firm like ours, who can help you craft a plan that fits your unique family dynamics, wishes and assets, as well as keep in touch over time to ensure your plan is updated and works when you need it to. At my firm, we support you with all this and more, including helping you structure your plan in a tax-efficient manner, minimizing the impact of taxes on your assets and ensuring your loved ones receive the maximum benefit from your estate.

I also help you address any unique circumstances within your family, such as a family business, a child with special needs or a family member with addiction issues, ensuring that your plan is tailored to meet the specific needs of your loved ones.

How We Support You to Avoid These Common Pitfalls

We understand that protecting your family goes far beyond just legal documentation. Our mission is to empower you to enshrine your hopes, values, and profound love for your children into a comprehensive plan that preserves your family's integrity for generations to come. We take the time to truly understand what family means to you—the struggles you overcame, the values you hold dear, the future you envision. And then we help you craft a tailored estate plan that meets your needs and stays updated over time.

Book a call with our office to learn how we can support you, and by extension, your entire family. Contact us today to get started.

This article is a service of Ralston Law, a Personal Family Lawyer® Firm. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That's why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love.

The content is sourced from Personal Family Lawyer® for use by Personal Family Lawyer® firms, a source believed to be providing accurate information. This material was created for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as ERISA, tax, legal, or investment advice. If you are seeking legal advice specific to your needs, such advice services must be obtained on your own separate from this educational material.

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