CGA Law News & Blog

Five (or Six!) Mistakes to Avoid in Your Estate Planning

access_time Posted on: August 23rd, 2023

Estate planning offers protection and security for you and your family. Having well-crafted documents can help ensure your loved ones will be equipped to handle your estate matters smoothly without any disagreements or uncertainties. Nevertheless, numerous estate plans contain avoidable errors that only serve to complicate matters or even spark conflicts. Here is a list of common mistakes to avoid.

1. Identify your beneficiaries correctly. Too often, problems arise when a bequest to “John Smith” or “my niece Mary” goes astray. Our world is full of John Smiths and Marys, and problems can arise if bequests are identified too vaguely. Problems also arise if people need help finding Mary, who may live in any one of the fifty states or abroad. An experienced estate attorney can help ensure that your beneficiaries are correctly identified and that their addresses and contact information are part of your estate file. Avoiding such problems can be helpful to everyone.

2. What if a beneficiary is deceased? Just as you and I will not live forever, our beneficiaries may predecease us. In such an event, is it your intent that their inheritance goes to their children? Or to their spouse? Or should that gift end with that beneficiary and go elsewhere in the event of their passing? Your attorney can help you with the proper language to ensure your wishes are followed without resorting to Pennsylvania’s Law of Intestacy, which may not align with your wishes.

3. Have an up-to-date Health Care Directive. Not long ago, Pennsylvania updated the law controlling Health Care Powers of Attorney and Living Wills. The new forms promulgated by the state are clear, easy to use, and can provide helpful guidance to a family during stressful times. Good directives will include a Living Will, which provides instructions in the event of a terminal condition; your attorney can directly provide this to your healthcare provider at your request. It is important to have a Health Care Directive and a Living Will in place, not only for what it tells your doctors but for the message it gives to your family: “I have given consideration to end of life issues, and I am providing you with these instructions so that you clearly understand my intentions.”

4. Remember that not everything passes under your will. Assets that have a beneficiary designation will pass to whomever is named beneficiary on that designation. Accounts such as 401(K), IRA, SEP accounts, or life insurance policies follow these beneficiary designations. This is true regardless of any language we may put in our wills, and a will should never include designations for such assets. Such assignments should be periodically checked to ensure they meet your wishes. At CGA, we contact clients every five years to ensure documents and beneficiaries are up-to-date.

5. Keep your documents in a safe place. Recently, a probate court in Detroit ruled that the valid will of Aretha Franklin was the document found under the cushions of her living room sofa and not the document kept in a locked cabinet in her other home. There is no good reason for a court hearing to be required to determine which will is valid. Documents should be kept safely in a fireproof container in one’s home; originals or copies can be placed for safekeeping at an attorney’s office. An attorney can provide guidance for the disposition of outdated documents when new versions are created. I strongly recommend documents not be stored under the cushions of a sofa.

6. Bonus!

Keep your documents up-to-date. Estate Planning documents are living documents that should change as our world and needs change. At CGA, we contact clients periodically to ensure that these documents are remembered. Records can easily be updated if life circumstances have changed – new children, estranged relationships, deceased beneficiaries. Changes in the law can also require corresponding changes in new documents.

If your estate documents are not up-to-date, they can quickly become unresponsive to your needs and desires. Contact a CGA Estate Planning Attorney today to ensure your documents continue to provide you peace of mind.

CGA Law Firm Attorney Tim Bupp

Timothy J. Bupp

Estate Law Chair | Shareholder | Attorney

Timothy J. Bupp is a Shareholder with CGA Law Firm and chairs the Firm’s Estate Law Section. He provides clients with specialized advice in Estate Planning, Business and tax planning, Real Estate transactions and related matters. Tim assists his clients by utilizing the knowledge he gained from his advanced degrees in business administration, business taxation, and law, as well as his certifications in estate planning and employee benefits taxation. He counsels individuals and businesses with estate and wealth transfer planning, business succession planning, entity formation or acquisition, and tax planning. 

Attorney Bupp has earned the designation of Certified Elder Law Attorney from the National Elder Law Foundation, the only ABA-approved Elder Law certification approved by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Read Tim’s Bio Page in full HERE.