One of the worst mistakes I’ve seen people make is appointing two children as co-executors of their will. It tends to happen because the parent doesn’t want to insult their children. They don’t want to favor one child over the other, and they think that the co-executor thing is a way to avoid animosity. But sometimes the opposite happens.
I know of a case in which an elderly aunt passed away. She didn’t have any children of her own, and she had three nieces — two of which she appointed as co-executors. It was a very large estate, and in the end, they weren’t speaking to each other. Everyone lawyered up, even the niece who was not a co-executor.
Here are a few other things I’ve learned about estate planning from working on estates:
- When you’re looking at your will to make sure it’s current, don’t forget your beneficiaries. I’m talking about the people you designated when you signed the paperwork for life insurance, investment accounts, 401ks, IRAs, and more. Beneficiaries named on those forms completely bypass the will, so make sure it’s not destined for an ex-spouse or someone who has passed.
- When you’re writing a will, it’s a good idea not to be vague. Be specific about which person you want to get which item, because people tend to fight more over sentimental things than money. Be specific on some of the sentimental items, too.
- Update your will to reflect your lifetime changes, whether it’s a birth, marriage, homeownership, or divorce. I think a good rule of thumb is to take a look at your will every five to seven years to make sure that it’s current and up to date.
- Your will is no good if no one can find it. Be sure to leave instructions on how to find it. Keep the original in a safe place — if that safe place is with your attorney, make sure your heirs know where that is.
Estate planning can be very complicated and it’s important to work with a Trusts and Estates attorney who’s experienced and knows what they’re doing. Contact us for great referrals!