1. Assigning co-executors isn’t always a great idea.
People often want all of their children as co-executors, to be fair, but this can often cause problems when it comes to administering the estate. What happens if they don’t agree? This can end up causing a lot of arguments. Let’s say you have a house and want to sell the estate assets. Some children may want the house to stay in the family, some may want to sell. Even if they agree on selling, how much should it sell for? These disagreements can inevitably turn into family in-fighting. Additionally, each co-executor should have their own attorney if you can foresee any conflicts of interest. So if you have four co-executors, that’s four times the legal fees. If you are going to choose multiple co-executors, it should be an odd number, so you have a majority rule. The worst situation is a stalemate where one executor wants one thing and the other disagrees.
2. Don’t be vague about assigning items of sentimental value.
Oftentimes someone will say, “I leave an equal share to all my kids”. While you may believe your children all get along and can figure things out, when people pass away, relationships can change. It’s easy to divide a monetary sum, but you can’t equally divide a sentimental painting, for instance. As people are processing loss and the associated emotions, these sentimental pieces can become very important. Without some kind of mediation or line of succession, this can also lead to arguments and in-fighting among your children.
3. Even with a will, it’s likely your executor(s) will still need to go through probate.
Probate is the legal process of administering a person’s estate when they die without a will, or if they die with one, proving the will. Although a valid will can direct where the assets are allocated, it doesn’t always avoid the probate process if the decedent owned real estate. Putting assets in a trust can be very beneficial for avoiding the probate process.
4. Update your will to reflect life changes.
Certain life events such as divorce, marriage, or the birth of children require your documents to be updated. Even outside of these circumstances, it’s recommended that your estate plan be revisited every five to seven years. If you forget to update, you could inadvertently leave someone out of your will. For example, if new grandchildren are born and the parent dies, the grandchildren would be outside of the will and would receive nothing.
5. Leave instructions about where to find your will.
Be clear and specific when letting loved ones know where to find your documents. If they simply know you have a will, but don’t know where the originals are or how to find your attorney, it could be a long time before they’re able to administer your estate. In the worst possible situation, they may never find it and need to go through probate without a will.
6. Work with someone who actually understands estate law.
Estate planning is complicated and even a good attorney who doesn’t specialize in the field can run into traps and errors that could cause serious problems down the line. While it may be tempting to work with a divorce lawyer, or an attorney who does litigation because you’ve worked with them before, or they can give you a good deal, it’s always best to work with a specialized estate planning attorney. The difference between a well-prepared set of documents and poor ones can mean a lot of extra time, money, and issues down the line.