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Don’t Leave a Jigsaw Puzzle Behind: Estate Plan!



For so many reasons, it’s important for every adult to have plans that address our care needs in the event of an emergency, as well as arrangements for our assets. Parents of minor children should also appoint guardians, via a will. While we all need plans, experts urge those in their fifties and older to make estate planning a top priority. Here are mistakes to avoid.


Fifty and Up

Most adults above the age of 50 have had plenty of ups and downs and in-betweens. That might mean having assets to protect and debts to manage,as well as current or “ex” life partners and blended families to consider, as well as hopes for leaving something behind for the people,charities and pets we love. Midlife and beyond means it is also critical to plot our own care needs in the event we later experience capacity declines. For all these reasons, it is highly advisable to have an estate plan that includes a will, a healthcare proxy and a power of attorney. Though not a replacement for these essentials, trusts can also be very helpful tools in estate planning, and can be tailored to address specific goals within a family. Typically, “pour-over wills” are used in tandem with trusts, as explained here.


Underscoring that “estate planning should be your biggest concern if you are 50 or older,” Dan Serra a certified financial planner (CFP) at SageVest Wealth Management in Virginia, reminds us that it is ultimately terrible for loved ones to have to “put the pieces together” after a death and points out: “Professional advice in this area is well worth the cost to avoid headaches and fighting among children.” That said, professional estate planners also caution us not to merely assume all the resulting documents are accurate and reflect our intentions, and share these mistakes to avoid with AARP:


Some people assume a plan is complete because an attorney prepared it, says Neal Van Zutphen, a CFP at Intrinsic Wealth Counsel in Tempe, Arizona. One plan he reviewed lacked provisions for the minor children. “Read your estate planning documents before you sign off.”


Some people don’t understand their estate plan, so it doesn’t reflect their wishes, says Jason Deshayes, a CFP at Cook Wealth in Raleigh, North Carolina. In that case, ask a financial planner to explain the documents. “Finish the process and execute it, so the plan can work.”


Obvious as it may seem, some people don’t have an executed will, or they fail to update a previously executed one when they divorce or go through another life change, says Kevin Brady, a CFP at Wealthspire Advisors LLC, in New York City. “This delays the administration of an estate or leads to heated litigation and acrimony.”


Share Intentions, Plans and Information

Among the biggest mistakes made in estate and care planning is failure to clearly communicate with beneficiaries, fiduciaries, friends and loved ones about our intentions. The resulting stress is hard on everyone involved–and can even ultimately result in painful, costly and time consuming probate litigation. In addition to appropriately communicating our decisions and practical information needed to carry them out (i.e. account details and digital access codes), coordinating, and periodically updating the details associated with our estate plans is also critical. Experts offer these tips:


Be sure to include bank accounts. Many banks offer “payable on death” designations that allow an account to pass to a beneficiary upon the death of the original owner, says Joey Loss, a CFP ,,,in…Florida. “Establishing joint titling on bank accounts for couples and beneficiary designations, whenever possible, can dramatically streamline the estate resolution process.”


Beneficiaries also need careful attention, says A. Raymond Benton, a CFP…in Colorado. “Review retirement plans, IRAs and annuity contracts and make sure that beneficiary designations do not conflict with your documents.”


Be sure to update beneficiaries on insurance policies and 401(k) plans in the event of a divorce, says Herschel Clanton, a CFP …in Atlanta. “I’ve seen the ex-wife as beneficiary, which disappointed the current wife when the husband died. The insurance company and the 401(k) provider paid the beneficiary of the policy as written.”


Carefully Appoint A Fiduciary

Among the decisions made during estate planning is the appointment of one or more fiduciaries to administer ou arrangements as spelled out in wills, trusts and other estate planning documents. Depending on the circumstances and location,a fiduciary may be specifically referred to as an executor, trustee or personal representative. Typically, adult children or other close friends or relations are designated, though it is also possible to appoint a professional fiduciary. Be sure that whoever you name understands the real responsibilities involved and is armed with the information needed to carry them out.


Regardless of the specifics of your estate plan, the representatives you designate to see it through have a legal responsibility to carry out your affairs in accordance with your intentions and the law. When representatives like executors, personal representatives or trustees are designated, estate bonds can be required. Learn more about estate bonds right here. Colonial Surety, a leading, national provider of all kinds of estate bonds, makes it easy and speedy to obtain them. Simply: get a quote online, fill out the information, and enter a payment method. Print or e-file the bond from anywhere.

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