It doesn’t take much to tarnish a gem of an estate plan, and with it your legacy.
A misplaced word, missing clause, or miscommunication between lawyer and client can send your will and your ordered estate plan spinning into chaos.
You can avoid such a fate.
Follow these last will and testament guidelines, and you’ll be well on the way to establishing the perfect will as the foundation for your estate plan.
Observe Your Lawyer Work Up Front
A good estate planner wants to know about everything you own or have an interest in before beginning.
If the lawyer doesn’t ask for details, you probably need another lawyer.
A good estate planner also will ask your goals and philosophy of money, show you different ways of trying to meet those goals, explain the tradeoffs in each method, and let you choose which route to take.
Unless your estate is very simple, be wary of a lawyer who has only one solution or quickly determines what to propose.
Write Your Will in Plain English
Lawyers and clients don’t always speak the same language. And too often clients aren’t willing to make their lawyers explain enough. The result can be unintended consequences in the will.
You can avoid this fate by writing in your own words what you want to accomplish with your will, and what you think the estate plan accomplishes.
You should do this before you talk to the lawyer and give the lawyer a copy of your will. Then as you and the lawyer develop a plan, update your statement to include the changes you believe have been made.
Show each revision of the will to your lawyer. This method reduces the room for error, and you’ll find out quickly if you and the lawyer miscommunicate in your discussions.
Get a Second Opinion on Your Will & Estate Plan
You do it with almost every significant thing in your life, and probably with some things that aren’t very important.
Spend a little extra money to get a second opinion on the will and any other estate plan documents.
Take your statement of goals and the documents to another estate planning lawyer for a review and comment.
After all, estate planning is fairly complicated, and gets more complicated each year. A small mistake can greatly change your estate plan.
For example, a bypass or credit shelter trust allows your estate to take advantage of the lifetime estate and gift tax exemption.
The trust can pay income to your spouse for the rest of his or her life, then pay the remaining property to your children.
On the other hand, the tax exemption could be lost if the trust gives your spouse the power to change the beneficiary.
Some trusts make that simple mistake and cost the estate additional taxes.
There’s a lot more to cover on the guidelines for crafting the right will for your estate plan, so keep an eye out for next week’s issue of Retirement Watch Weekly.
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