Five Mistakes to Avoid in Your Estate Planning
A blog from our Level 3 Sponsor:
Careful Estate Planning can provide peace of mind for you and security for your family. Good, sturdy, well-crafted, and well executed documents can assure that your loved ones will be able to address your estate issues without conflict or confusion. However, far too many estate plans are marred with unnecessary errors that complicate an estate or lead to conflict or problems. Here are some common mistakes to avoid.
- Assure that documents are signed, dated, and properly witnessed. A Will or a Power of Attorney without a signature is not a legally binding document. Proper signature is key to assuring that such documents can be recognized as valid. A dated document, while not necessary, is certainly helpful, to assure that the most recent document is the one honored. Pennsylvania Law requires that a valid Power of Attorney is signed by two witnesses, and is notarized; the witnesses should not be an agent empowered to act under the document. Wills should be notarized as well, and in a good Will, the witnesses signatures are also notarized; the right language can make the Will self-proving, which eases the administration and avoids costs in the administration.
- Do not alter your Will with hand written notes. Hand written changes to an estate documents complicate its validity and can lead to greater expense and conflict in enforcing the document. In some cases, hand written marks on the Will can invalidate the entire document. Too many times, a person self-changes their own Will, trying to avoid the expense of working with an attorney. This is usually self-defeating; minor changes to a Will can be made with a codicil, a process which is not expensive or complicated. Better safe than sorry.
- Make certain your will is “spend thrift-proof.” A spend thrift clause is a standard provision in an attorney-prepared Will which assures that the estate deals directly with the beneficiaries, and not with their creditors. We all want our family and heirs to receive our estate without the estate dealing directly with the third-party claimants. Too often, a home-made or internet Will omits this important provision.
- Make provisions for personality items. Often, items of personal property such as automobiles, antiques, jewelry, guns, artworks, and other items of personal value such as photographs albums or family heirlooms can cause disputes among beneficiaries. I have witnessed family disputes over a military flag; a popcorn popper; even a belt buckle. It is best to make specific provisions for such items. If appropriate, a list can be affixed to your Will, identifying specific beneficiaries for specific items. Some care is needed to assure that such bequests are legally enforceable.
- “Don’t “do-it-yourself” – work with an attorney. Sometimes, people resort to an on-line form document for their Will or Power of Attorney, thinking this will save them money and make things easier. Usually, it does neither. Preprinted Wills from the internet often have provisions from other states or lack language which is required here in Pennsylvania. Administering such form documents causes expense, headaches, and heartaches to our families at a time when they can least afford it. Working with an experienced estate attorney assures that your estate documents will be appropriate now, and easy to administer in the future.
Take steps to assure that your estate documents are updated and in place, for your own piece of mind and for your family, by contacting an estate attorney at CGA today.
Thank you to CGA Law Firm, a Level 3 sponsor of TroveStreet. CGA has offices in York, East Berlin, and Hanover. The firm provides legal assistance to individuals, businesses, and local governments, with the aim “to be a force for good in our community.” It has years of experience advising individuals on the changing life needs that come with aging. CGA Law Firm is sponsoring the Wills and Estate Planning section in our Resource Center.