Why Your Estate Plan Is Not As Airtight As You Think
Most of us have an idea in our minds of how we would want our estate to be distributed at the time of our death.
Unfortunately, the majority of Americans do not have those thoughts down on paper in the form of a will. A will is only the starting point of a well-thought-out estate plan. Read through and answer these questions to be sure you will avoid confusion or arguments after you are gone.
Is your will current?
If you have already written a will, how long ago did you create it? Have there been any significant changes in your life, or in your beneficiaries’ lives? Have you sold any real estate since you wrote the will? These are just a few of the many questions that should be answered. The best practice is to review the will every 5-7 years.
Is your will legally binding?
Every state has different requirements for properly executing a will. In Oklahoma, at least two witnesses are required. Witnesses should actually see the maker of the will (testator), sign the will and the witnesses must sign while the testator is present. Heirs under the will should not be used as witnesses.
Problems may arise with a do-it-yourself will after the testator has passed. Clear and easily understood verbiage should be used so there is no question regarding the intent of the testator. The courts see many DIY wills that do not have the required number of witnesses, causing the will to be thrown out. At that time the courts decide who will receive the assets from the estate.
Is your will detailed?
Most people think of a will as a document that dictates who will get the biggest assets in an estate. Of course, that is important but a will should also detail who gets the smaller items such as furniture, photo albums and all of the sentimental items that are passed through generations. There may be some disputes along the heirs about the most sentimental items. This is where it should be spelled out in clear, concise language exactly who gets what.
Have you planned your funeral?
It is entirely appropriate to pre-plan a funeral as part of an estate plan. In the days after a family member’s death, usually, those who are left behind are emotional and are not in the right frame of mind to plan a funeral and burial.
Most funeral homes will gladly meet and help to plan a funeral in advance. Do you want to be buried in a casket or cremated? Do you want a church service or just a graveside service? Preplanning your funeral is a great gift to the loved ones you leave behind.
Are your financial affairs fully organized?
The executor of your will should be able to find your online logins, bank information, and list of monthly bills. The job of executor can be overwhelming and contentious. Make things easy for this person.
It goes without saying that we all want our families to have strong ties to each other long after we are gone. Anything you can do to make things easier at their time of grief will be the ultimate gift of love.
Kevin Miller has more than 30 years of experience as a probate, estate planning, and elder law attorney in Oklahoma City. Kevin will help you think through the creation of your will, medical directives, and powers of attorney.