We all know that in order to maintain good health, it is important to have regular checkups. In the same way, your estate plan needs similar attention in order to stay healthy. Thankfully, through a quick self-diagnosis, you can avoid a few of the most common mistakes that would jeopardize the health of your estate plan. Here are three check-up questions to determine if your estate plan has these mistakes, followed by a few recommendations toward an appropriate remedy.
Are the Beneficiary Designations on Your Retirement Accounts Current?
The most common estate planning mistake is not having correct beneficiaries on retirement accounts – or having no beneficiary named! The reason for this is relatively simple – a lot of people have retirement accounts, but the only time the beneficiary designation is reviewed is when the account is initially set up – typically at the start of employment, when they are filling out tons of other paperwork at the same time! The designation is hastily put together and then never looked at again. Some of the more common beneficiary designation problems we see are:
- A spouse is named as beneficiary who is now an ex-spouse.
- No contingent beneficiary is named.
- Beneficiaries are unintentionally excluded (such as after born children).
The point here is simply this: don’t assume who your beneficiaries are on your retirement accounts. Obtain a written copy of your designation and keep a copy with your other estate planning documents.
Is Your Revocable Trust Funded?
A revocable trust is a very common estate planning document that, in essence, replaces a person’s Last Will and Testament as the primary “go-to” document at the time of death. The primary benefit of a revocable trust is it can be administered by the trustee without needing to go through the probate process at the time of the death. This can save your loved ones substantial legal costs.
However, a revocable trust is only effective to avoid probate for the assets that you title in the name of the trust during your lifetime. A trust’s instructions cannot govern an asset that is not titled in the trust. Unfortunately, this retitling is an often-neglected part of the estate planning process. But it is absolutely critical for the effectiveness of the estate plan – it does you no good to have a perfectly drafted revocable trust with no assets in it to govern! Accordingly, if you do have a revocable trust, you should review the ownership of your real estate, business organizations, and non-IRA investment accounts to ensure they are properly titled in the name of your trust.
Do You Have the Right Persons in Charge?
Finally, it is important to review your estate planning document to ensure the right people are in charge. Many times, not much thought is given to those named in charge – the spouse and then children (by birth order) is a very common structure. But by not giving the selection a lot of thought, important considerations can be missed: a person’s availability to act, their competency, and their location, to name a few. Your oldest child may be perfectly competent to handle the administration of your estate, but if they live thousands of miles away, it may be terribly cumbersome for them to act in this capacity.
You really should give good thought as to who would act best and in what capacity, and then have a conversation (even if it is difficult!) with your loved ones about your estate plan to make sure they understand why you did what you did.
If you have any questions as you conduct your estate plan checkup, please feel free to reach out.