Avoid These Common Estate Planning Mistakes

On behalf of Peterson, Berk & Cross, S.C.

A lot of people try to do estate planning on their own, or else go to an attorney who does not practice estate planning law regularly. Unfortunately, whatever money they might save tends to be outweighed by costly mistakes in their plan.

Mistakes can happen, no matter how complex your estate plan might be. Here are four common errors found in estate plans throughout Wisconsin:

  1. Not populating a revocable trust. Setting up your revocable trust is just the beginning. You have to transfer the assets into the trust that you want in there. For things like real estate other than your home or bank accounts, that often requires additional steps, like changing the language on the deed, or opening a new account and transferring funds from the old account.
  2. Forgetting to update beneficiaries on non-estate planning assets. Things like life insurance, annuities and retirement accounts are not included in the will and do not pass through probate. It is up to you to keep the beneficiaries of these assets up to date so they do not go to a former spouse or other unintended people.
  3. Not designating powers of attorney. Wisconsin law allows you to have two powers of attorney if you become incapacitated: one to handle your financial affairs on your behalf, and another for your medical decisions. You can also designate one person to handle both if you prefer. But you need to draft a power of attorney document as part of your estate plan to make this happen. And if you don’t keep it up to date, your powers of attorney could be people who are no longer in your life or have become unable to handle the job.
  4. Never reviewing the plan. The people you named as your heirs, beneficiaries and trustees in your estate plan today may no longer be appropriate a few years from now. But your estate plan will remain out of date unless you look it over periodically and make necessary adjustments.

The easiest way to avoid these errors is to work with an experienced estate planning attorney. Your lawyer will explain everything you must do once their part of the job is done. Most of these duties are fairly easy to do, but not doing them can lead to poor outcomes.