An individual’s last will & testament is the foundation of every good estate plan. Your last will & testament sets forth your intentions for the management and distribution of your estate assets and names an executor to administer your estate after you pass away.
Here are the most common mistakes people make with their last will & testament and how you can avoid them:
Assuming That Your Family Can Manage Your Estate Without Your Last Will & Testament
If you die without a last will & testament, your family will need to seek a court order to make many of the important decisions that will need to be made. Furthermore, the state’s Laws of Intestacy will dictate who inherits from your estate, which may be contrary to what you would have wanted and/or what is best for your family.
Using a DIY Template To Prepare Your Last Will & Testament
Unless you are extremely confident and your estate is very simple, using a DIY template to prepare your last will & testament is not recommended. The DIY process is full of pitfalls and errors can easily be made that will invalidate your last will & testament or result in your wishes not being carried out the way you intended.
Using Vague are Unclear Language In Your Last Will & Testament
A last will & testament that is written with vague or unclear language can lead to discrepancies over its meaning and is more likely to be contested. If your last will & testament is contested, the matter may have to be litigated all the way to trial, which can cost your loved one a lot of time and money. Moreover, this may ultimately result in your wishes as regards the distribution of your assets not being fulfilled.
Choosing the Wrong Executor
Estate administration typically takes 12 to 18 months. However, omissions and errors made by your executor can delay the process by months or even years.
So, when choosing an executor, consider whether the individual has the time and the ability to successfully perform the task. For many estates, choosing a corporate executor can be an excellent option, since this can relieve your family and friends of a difficult and time-consuming burden.
Forgetting to Name an Alternate Executor
You should always name at least one alternate executor, in case something happens to your executor of choice. For example, if you and your spouse name each other as your sole executors, then if you both die together, neither of you will have a living executor.
Making Changes on Your Last Will & Testament After it Has Been Signed and Witnessed
The only way you can make valid changes to a last will & testament that has been signed and witnessed is to prepare a codicil (for small changes) or to prepare an entirely new document (for sweeping changes or when a completely new will is necessary).
Failing to Keep Your will Up-to-date
Failing to keep your will up-to-date can result in you dying without your most recent wishes being known. It is recommended that you review your last will & testament regularly––at least every 5 years and after major family events, such as marriages, divorces, births, and deaths.
Not Storing Your Last Will & Testament in a Secure Place
Storing your last will & testament in a secure place and where it can easily be found after your death is just as important as preparing the document in the first place. Our top recommendations for places to store your last will & testament are as follows:
- In a home safe – storing your last will & testament in a safe in your home is a great option. However, it is important that your executor has the combination or the means to open the safe when you die.
- Your attorney’s office -storing your last will & testament at your attorney’s office is also an excellent choice. However, it is important to ask your attorney for a copy of the document for your records and that this copy clearly indicates where the original document can be found.
There are also a couple of places where we recommend you NOT store your last will & testament:
- In a bank safe deposit box – storing your last will & testament in a bank safe deposit box is inadvisable because of the trouble your executor will have to go through to gain access to the box after your death. Your executor will need your original last will & testament to open your probate estate, but will not have access to your safe deposit box where it is stored. This means that he or she will likely need to first obtain an order from the probate court to gain access to your safe deposit box and to retrieve your last will & testament.
- Any unsecure location – A person’s passing is a tumultuous time and it’s hard to say for sure who will have access to your house just before or after you die. If your last will & testament is not stored in a secure location, you risk it being accidentally or intentionally misplaced or destroyed. What’s more, if your last will & testament is not stored in a fireproof and waterproof location, it could be lost to a fire or flood.