10 Biggest Mistakes People Make With Their Wills

5 min read

Avoid these common mistakes to ensure your last wishes are carried out.

10. Believing You Don’t Need a Will

The number one mistake people make with their will is thinking they don’t need one. They believe that they don’t have enough assets to warrant setting up a will or that any assets they do have will become the state’s property. The truth of the matter is that their estate will be handed over to probate courts to allocate assets and identify beneficiaries.

The family will need to obtain a court order to make important decisions concerning the deceased’s property. Unfortunately, without a will, there’s no way to ensure that your family will even receive anything from your estate.

9. Trying To Set Up a Will Yourself

Yes, there are DIY templates out there to help you set up your will, but using them is not recommended. It’s best to enlist the help of a qualified estate lawyer, who can help you dodge any mistakes that might keep your last wishes from being carried out and bring more confusion and grief to your loved ones.

Even if you have minimal assets, any errors on your will could result in it becoming null and void or having the wrong people end up with your property.

8. Not Updating Your Will

Keeping your will up to date will ensure that your most recent wishes are carried out. That being said, it’s a good idea to review your will every few years, especially after significant life events, such as births, deaths and divorces. Even if you’ve moved to another state, you will need to update your will.

“Residency is defined differently in each state, and an out-of-state will delays the probate process because it fails to satisfy state requirements. Worse yet, it may even be declared invalid,” Robert J. Varak, Chicagoland estate planning attorney, wrote on his website.

7. Not Storing Your Will in a Safe Place

Keeping your will in a safe place where it won’t get destroyed and where it can be easily accessed is essential. Good places to keep your will are in a home safe or at your attorney’s office. Make sure you ask your attorney for a copy of your records. This copy should clearly detail where the original will can be found.

On the other hand, it’s generally not a good idea to keep your will in a bank safe deposit box because your executor will have a tough time trying to gain access to the box after your death. They will likely have to obtain a court order from the probate court to access its contents.

6. Forgetting Important Information

All your assets and outstanding debts should be included in your will. As such, you will need to make updates from time to time as you acquire or lose assets and accumulate debt.

Also, it’s important to make sure you use the correct names in your will. That means using legal names, not nicknames. Additionally, the information for your beneficiaries should include their location and relationship with you.

TIP: Don’t forget about your digital information. This includes social media accounts, digital photo accounts, stocks, bitcoins, etc. Digital estate planning will make it possible to transfer your digital assets and information to your loved ones.

5. Choosing the Wrong Executor

When choosing an executor, make sure it’s someone who not only has the time to perform the task at hand but also has the ability to perform the task and can be trusted to do so. If you feel you don’t know anyone who would be a good fit or don’t want to burden your family with carrying out your will, you can always opt for a lawyer or a corporate executor.

TIP: Don’t forget to name an alternate executor. This is just in case something happens to the person you originally chose as executor. For example, your first choice could pass away before you do, or they could decide they no longer want to take on that responsibility.

4. Using Vague or Unclear Language

Using vague or unclear language in your will could result in it being contested. For example, you might have an item you wish to leave with your favorite cousin but have another similar item. How will anyone know which item you are referring to if your language isn’t specific enough?

And, what if you have two relatives with similar names? Yes, it happens. I have them in my family. If I wanted to leave something to them in my will, I would need to be very specific regarding their names. That’s why it’s important to include your beneficiaries’ full names, location and their relationship to you in your will.

3. Not Signing Your Will

How terrible it would be to take the time to set up a will outlining your last wishes only to forget to sign it. Just as important is making sure you have a witness present when you sign it.

Not doing either of these things can result in your assets not going where you want them to go. For example, a loved one was once disinherited from a million-dollar estate because the will was not signed and witnessed.

The witness or witnesses cannot be beneficiaries. Getting a beneficiary to witness you signing your could result in their inheritance being reduced or voided altogether.

2. Not Telling Someone About Your Will

Setting up a will isn’t going to do your beneficiaries any good if you don’t tell them about the will in the first place. That being said, the first step is to talk to the person you wish to name an executor.

Let them know where your will and other important documents are kept. Next, talk to your beneficiaries. Let them know who’s getting what. This will leave time for you to make changes if your heirs aren’t happy with your bequest.

1. Thinking You Only Need a Will

Setting up a will is very important, but other documents go hand in hand with wills and are just as important. For example, an advanced health care directive lets you appoint someone to make healthcare decisions on your behalf legally should you ever become incapacitated.

Power of attorney also lets you appoint an agent to act on your behalf should you become incapacitated. There are different types of power of attorney. These include specific powers of attorney, general powers of attorney, and durable powers of attorney. Keep in mind that not all states allow all three types.

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