Estate planning is a subject that many choose to avoid because it brings up topics people don’t like to discuss: death or disability. However, refusing to develop an estate plan can make life more difficult to those left behind.

The most common mistake people make is doing nothing. Failing to have a will or trust created takes away the power of a person to leave their property to those they wish. Instead, the property will be distributed by state law rather than the decedent.

Another common mistake is failing to address disability. Many people anticipate and plan for death, but disability can create equally difficult problems for others. Loved ones may not have access to financial accounts or have power to authorize medical treatment. Powers of attorney or healthcare proxies will provide power for those authorized to make financial or healthcare decisions for a disabled person. Without these documents, a costly guardianship or conservatorship may be required. Both of these procedures require an expensive and timely court proceeding to be initiated.

When people have a will prepared, many assume that the directions in the will cover all of their property. This is a mistaken assumption. Certain property, such as retirement accounts and life insurance, have specific beneficiaries. Directions in the will do not override a valid statement of beneficiary. If real estate is held jointly with another person, it normally goes to the surviving joint tenant, even if the will states otherwise.

Though printed forms are popular, they can also be a dangerous method of estate planning. The form may not conform to state law and therefore be invalid. If invalid, the wishes of the decedent may not be followed. In other cases, a necessary document might be overlooked and not prepared. Because of their familiarity with succession laws and the documents required to fulfill a person’s wishes, choosing a qualified estate attorney is an important part of estate planning.

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