There are many mistakes people can make when planning for their future. Usually the biggest one is not planning. Most of the time, by the time they get to me, we can make sure to remedy these mistakes.
1. Not talking to their families. Leaving a house to multiple children and hoping they will “work it out amongst themselves” is rarely a good plan. Even if it is a treasured vacation home they children may have different ideas of how to manage it, differing abilities to pay for the upkeep and taxes or different desires about how much they want to use it. Issues like these are much easier to sort out now, while you are still around to put the right plan in place.
2. Not choosing enough alternates. When clients come to me with existing wills, powers of attorney or health care proxies, the biggest issue I see with them is that the client has named only one alternate, although I have even seen some documents with no alternates listed. Circumstances change, relationships change and people can get sick or die. Not having enough alternates listed can render your documents useless if the only person named in it can no longer assist you.
3. Choosing people out of obligation rather than based on their suitability for the role. I have sometimes spoken to people who choose their executors or health care agents based on birth order or with an eye towards “making things fair for the kids” rather than who would be the most suitable person to help them under the circumstances. While it can be difficult to put aside feelings of guilt or responsibility, the goal of your plan is to make sure you have the best people taking care of you, not to make sure no one’s feelings are hurt. This is another place where talking to your family can help, you may find that the person you are naming for the wrong reason doesn’t mind not being named.
4. Never Looking at Your Plan Again After Signing It. The plans I prepare for my clients are meant to carry them well into the future. But things change – babies are born, people get older, finances or health can take a nose dive. All of these things should prompt you to take a look at your estate planning documents to see if they might need to change as well. Aren’t sure whether they do? Call your attorney, let them know the change in circumstance and see whether your plan needs to change or it that contingency was already taken into account.
5. Letting The Perfect Be The Enemy of the Good. Decisions can be hard to make. But not making a decision is also making a decision. If you don’t choose someone to make financial or health care decisions for you and you become incapacitated, a judge will make the decision for you. Who are the people who would come forward to serve in that role? Are they the people you would choose? If yes, put them down. If no, put down someone besides those people. You can always change it later, but at least in the meantime you will be in charge of your choices and not leaving it up to chance.