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What Elements are Overlooked in Estate Plans?

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There are certain provisions that people often forget to put in a will or estate plan that can have a big impact on a family.

When creating an estate plan, there are details which seem minor but are actually very important, says a recent article from mondaq, “Four Provisions People Often Forget To Include In Their Estate Plan.” So, what elements are overlooked in estate plans?  Here are common ones that Beck, Lenox & Stolzer Estate Planning and Elder Law frequently sees that are missed.

Don’t forget to name alternative beneficiaries and executors. If the will names a beneficiary but they are unable to take possession of the property, or they are deceased, the asset will pass as though you didn’t have a will at all. In other words, the state will determine who receives the property, which may not be in accordance with your wishes. If there’s an alternate beneficiary, the property will go to someone of your choosing. A backup executor is also critical. If your primary executor cannot or does not want to serve, the court may appoint an administrator.

Personal possessions, including family heirlooms. Most families have items with great sentimental value, whether or not they have any financial value. Putting a list in your will makes it very difficult if you want to change your mind over time. It’s best to have a personal property memorandum. This is a separate document providing details about what items you want to give to family and friends. In some states, it is legally binding if the personal property memorandum is referenced in the will and signed and dated by the person making the will. A local estate planning attorney will know the law for your state.

Even if this document is not legally binding, it gives your heirs clear instructions for what you want and may avoid family arguments. Please don’t use it to make any financial bequests or real estate gifts. Those belong in the will.

Digital assets. Much of our lives is now online. However, many people have slowly incorporated digital assets into their estate plans. You’ll want to list all online accounts, including email, financial, social media, gaming, shopping, etc. In addition, your executor may need access to your cell phone, tablet and desktop computer. The agent named by your Power of Attorney needs to be given authority to handle online accounts with a specific provision in these documents. Ensure the list, including the accounts, account number, username, password and other access information, is kept safe, and tell your executor where it can be found.

Companion animals. Today’s pet is a family member but is often left unprotected when its owners die or become incapacitated. Pets cannot inherit property, but you can name a caretaker and set aside funds for maintenance. Many states now permit pet owners to have a pet trust, a legally enforceable trust so the trustee may pay the pet’s caregiver for your pet’s needs, including veterinarian care, training, boarding, food and whatever the pet needs. Creating a document providing details to the caretaker concerning the pet’s needs, health conditions, habits and quirks is advised. Make sure the person you are naming as a caretaker is able and willing to serve in this capacity, and as always, when naming a person for any role, have at least one backup person named.

Beck, Lenox & Stolzer has been creating estate planning documents for almost 50 years. We’ve seen it all! We can help you with your estate planning needs, including with Fido. Contact us here for help.

Reference: mondaq (March 16, 2023) “Four Provisions People Often Forget To Include In Their Estate Plan”

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