Here are the Top Estate Planning Mistakes to Avoid

It can be very difficult to plan for events like aging, incapacitation, and death, but not planning for these events can cause families burden and grief and might also cost family members a significant amount of time and money.

It is estimated that over 50% of Americans haven’t created a will. The Future File business also estimates that less than 10% of the U.S. population has a complete legacy and wishes planning system.

Planning for difficult and unexpected events is vital but can often be difficult to navigate. Here are the top estate planning mistakes to avoid, according to experts in the industry:

1. Not having a will (or one that can be found) 

The biggest mistake is simply not having a will. As Kelly Dancy, an attorney at Walny Legal Group, says, “Estate planning is critically important to protect an individual, their family, and their hard-earned assets, during their lifetime, during any period of incapacity and upon their deaths. Everyone needs estate planning documents, regardless of the amount of assets that they have.”

Too often, people put off gathering key documents together. Tim Hewson, president of, believes that “waiting for a ‘more appropriate time’ to put together your will is a mistake. Everybody should have a will. It should be written when you are young and updated throughout your life as your circumstances change.”

It’s also important that this will is able to be found. The Wall Street Journal says that the biggest estate planning mistake is simply losing a will. Be sure your family knows where your will is located and has access to it.

2. Neglecting to choose and update appropriate beneficiaries 

When you have an asset that has a beneficiary designation, this supersedes what is written in a will. Ryan Repko, a financial advisor at Ruedi Wealth Management, suggests that you review your 401(k), IRA, life insurance and any other accounts with beneficiaries after major life events.

He says, “The most grievous example [of a beneficiary issue] is when a married couple divorces, then remarries without changing the beneficiary to the new spouse. In this all-too-common and completely avoidable scenario, the ex-spouse is legally entitled to the assets, and a lengthy legal battle ensues on behalf of the new spouse and/or the children to claim the assets.”

There are other potential issues to consider as well. Sheri E. Warsh, a partner at Levenfeld Pearlstein, LLC, shares, “Without a proper beneficiary designation, income tax on retirement accounts may have to be paid sooner, which may lead to a larger than necessary income tax liability, and the designation of a beneficiary on a life insurance policy can impact whether the proceeds are subject to claims of creditors.”

Daci L. Jett, managing attorney at Daci Jett Law LLC, talks about another mistake that impacts people with minor children. “A mistake people make is choosing a guardian for their minor children and then naming that person as beneficiary of their life insurance instead of leaving it to a trust for their child. A named beneficiary becomes the legal owner for all purposes of the life insurance proceeds and your minor child has no recourse to get that money. Plus, it exposes the money to the beneficiary’s creditors and spouse.”

Hilary Fuelleborn, an estate planning attorney with Luskus & Fuelleborn P.C., also says that not being clear about beneficiaries or ownership can create issues with how assets are passed on to heirs. “As parents get older, they will often put an adult child on a bank account to allow the child to pay bills for the parent. This can be a big mistake. Upon death of the parent, that joint account automatically becomes the property of that adult child, regardless of the will that may designate all property to be divided equally amongst all children. So, if there is $100,000 in a bank account that is joint with one child, upon the parent’s death, that $100,000 belongs to that one child, regardless of whether that was the parent’s intent.”

3. Overlooking the importance of powers of attorney for kids over 18 years old 

Finally, it’s important to remember that if you have any children who are 18 years or older, they are regarded as adults in the eyes of the law. Sheri Warsh advises, “If an 18-year-old becomes ill or has an accident, a doctor will not speak to a parent if a power of attorney for health care is not in place. Similarly, unless a power of attorney for property is in place, a parent may not be able to take care of bills, make investment decisions and pay taxes without the child’s signature. This could be very difficult when a child is in college, especially if they are out of the country.” It is very important to get those powers of attorney put into place when your child turns 18.

For assistance in creating and keeping your estate plan up-to-date, contact us at Wilson and Wilson Estate Planning and Elder Law, LLC, 708-482-7090 or