Last week an article in the Mansfield Patch listed "Five Vital Estate Planning Mistakes" made by local community members. The list touched on a few issues that each New York estate planning lawyer in our firm has seen time and again. Like history, these errors tend to repeat themselves. Being aware of the common problems is the best way to ensure you don't make them yourself.
Of course common mistake number one is putting off estate planning efforts entirely. Passing on is usually not a topic that most enjoy thinking about. Estate plans inherently involve some considerations and preparations in the event that one is no longer alive, and so many simply avoid the idea altogether. This delay ultimately serves no purpose. As the article author remarks tough-in-cheek, "If you don't die before retirement, chances are pretty good you'll die sometimes afterwards." Considering that death is inevitable, there is simply no logical reason to do no planning and risk paying more in taxes, the uncertainty of the probate process, or the potential squabbling of family members.
Second on the list was failure to consider naming guardians for one's children. While most local residents conducting New York estate planning have adult children, planning is important for younger community members as well, particularly those who have young children. When crafting an elder law estate plan for clients, we always take into account the family dynamics involved. When young children are present it is important to make plans for those children in the event something happens to you, the parent. This is another task that is often put off, because it is not pleasant to think about orphaned youngsters. However, at the end of the day failing to name a guardian only means that the buck will be passed to some other decision maker if anything happens--usually the court. No one is better positioned than a parent to name a potential replacement in case of tragedy, and so it is always prudent for parents to do so.
Another common mistake includes failing to update policy beneficiaries. Single parents or those who are divorced are more susceptible to this error. For example, when their children are young a single parent may name a grandparent as a beneficiary on things like an IRA, 401(k), or life insurance policy. They then fail to change that designation down the road, after their children have grown. Similarly, divorced spouses often forget to change each other as named beneficiaries after the divorce.
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