Just because you have a will does not mean it’s valid. Or that it will do what you intend it to do. Over the years, we have seen all sorts of problems arise when someone passes away and the will’s provisions are supposed to go into effect. With this in mind, one of the first things we do with new clients is to go over their estate planning documents, including wills, to verify all will work as intended. And to then do followup reviews as time passes. Here are some of the most common pitfalls when it comes to wills:
— Cannot find the original signed will. Copies do not count.
— Created while you were deemed to be incompetent.
— Improper execution. For example:
- You did not sign the final version of the will
- The will is not in writing
- One or both of the two witnesses required to sign the will are not “disinterested parties” — they are also named as beneficiaries in your will.
— Giving the same thing to more than one person.
— Will contradicts automatic transfer designations. Certain accounts must transfer according to the beneficiary designation form — such as an IRA or life insurance — or to the listed co-owner, such as a bank or broker account with joint ownership or rights of survivorship. These types of accounts transfer automatically, outside the will and its provisions.
For example: In your will you specify that your IRA and life insurance payout go to your daughter, even though your ex-husband is still listed as the beneficiary for both. In this situation, the ex-husband gets the money! Lesson: Check your account titling and beneficiary designations. They can override what’s in your will.
— Not specifying who gets family heirlooms and other important items. Many people forget to draft such a list and attach it to their will.
— Giving away assets that are no longer part your estate (assets placed in trusts, for example).
— Not having the assets needed to fund your intent.
— Naming an incompetent or untrustworthy person as executor of your will.
— Not updating your will as time passes, what you own changes or your intent evolves.