8 Common Estate Planning Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Are you part of the 58% of Americans who don’t have a will? 

While thinking about and planning for what happens after you die can be uncomfortable, it’s important not to put off estate planning. 

However, you want to make sure you do it carefully, so you don’t make estate planning mistakes that could complicate matters for your loved ones after you pass away. 

So, how can you make sure you do all the right things when writing a will and planning what happens after you die?  

Keep reading for an overview of 8 common estate planning mistakes, and how to avoid making them. 

1. Putting It Off

The number one mistaking you can make in terms of estate planning is simply avoiding it.

If you pass away before you put together a plan for what happens to your assets, you’ll be leaving your family to deal with a significant amount of emotional strain. And that’s on top of the emotional toll of grief following a death. 

If you don’t think you need to bother with estate planning because you just assume that your assets will be left to your spouse or children, that’s not always the case.

Laws vary per state if you die without a will, so the best thing to do is to make it very clear what you want to happen after you die, and get it in writing. 

2. Not Setting Beneficiaries Correctly

As part of the estate planning process, you’ll need to set beneficiary designations on all relevant policies. This includes things like retirement plans, life insurance policies, military pensions, etc. 

However, choosing a beneficiary is just the first step. You’ll also need to set an alternate beneficiary, should your primary beneficiary die before you do.

And, you can’t forget to update your beneficiaries as your life circumstances change over the years. For example, if your spouse is your primary beneficiary, and you get divorced, you may want to set a new beneficiary. 

Or, if your parent is an alternate beneficiary and they pass away, you’ll need to adjust your estate plan accordingly. 

3. Not Signing a Health-Care Directive

An unfortunate part of the estate planning process is thinking in terms of worst-case scenarios. 

For example, what happens if you suffer a severe medical emergency and you cannot make decisions for yourself?

If you don’t have a signed health-care directive in your estate planning documents, your loved ones are left to make difficult decisions about life support, organ donation, and more. 

By making your wishes clear for what you want to happen in the event of a medical emergency, things will be much easier for your family. 

4. Ignoring Tax-Saving Opportunities

Some clients can take advantage of several tax-saving opportunities to help lessen the impact of any estate taxes that might be due after passing. 

In your estate plans, classify certain items as gifts, whether to groups, businesses, or individuals. Qualifying gifts, up to $15,000, can be excluded from estate taxes. 

Another way to save on estate taxes is to use the federal exemption option for each spouse. 

The surviving spouse can pass their deceased spouse’s unused federal exemption to themselves, essentially doubling the exemption amount for which they qualify. 

However, you must make sure you do everything regarding taxes in compliance with the law. Work with an estate planning attorney to ensure that you do everything correctly. 

5. Not Planning for the Unexpected

When creating estate plans, you must think about and plan for all unexpected situations. You’ll want to name powers of attorney, should something happen to you where you can no longer make decisions for yourself. 

If you have young children, the last thing you want to think about is missing out on a lifetime together. However, it’s better to be safe than sorry, by choosing a legal guardian should something happen to you and your spouse. 

You never know what might happen in your life, so it’s best to include plans for all scenarios when estate planning. 

6. Taking a Set It and Forget It Approach

If you’ve already done your estate planning, that’s great! However, the work doesn’t end there. 

Estate planning is not a one-time-only event. As your life changes, your estate plans should change along with it. 

For example, your plans will likely change as your family changes, whether in the form of marriage, divorce, remarriage, or having children. 

Similarly, if you move to a new state, there may be laws that impact your estate plans that weren’t in place in your old state. 

It’s a good idea to revisit your estate plans once a year or so, to verify everything is up to date. 

7. Picking the Wrong Person 

Choosing a personal representative for your estate is an important decision. You want to make sure you don’t select someone who could have ulterior motives. 

When making a decision on who should be your personal representative, try to think about someone who is good at making decisions emotionally and someone who is reliable. 

You should also choose someone who is in good financial standing and who can handle the responsibility that comes along with being a personal representative.

Once you’ve made a decision make sure to talk it over with the person you choose to make sure they are comfortable with your decision. 

8. Not Working With Professionals

You don’t want to take any chances when it comes to planning your estate and preparing your will. 

Hire an attorney who specializes in estate planning to make sure nothing is overlooked. This helps to ensure that your wishes are documented correctly and there will be a lower likelihood of complications when you pass away. 

Talking to a financial planner and tax professional can also help you when estate planning.

We Can Help You Avoid Estate Planning Mistakes

Our lawyers at Watertown Law are here to help you avoid all the estate planning mistakes listed above. 

You can’t afford to put off your plans any longer. Reach out to our team today to take the first step in making the right preparations. 

Schuetzenfest

On Wednesday, September 12, 2018, the Dodge County Bar Association held the 16th annual Schuetzenfest. At this event, Attorney Alex Phillips won a number of awards including: 1st place in the King Match, 3rd place in the 200 Yard Scoped Rifle Match, 2nd place in the Billy Dixon Buffalo Shoot and 3rd place in the Annie Oakley Match.

Lambeau Field

LambeauAssociate attorneys Nicole Schrier, Ethan Geis and Alex Phillips went to an ethics training at Lambeau Field. As part of their experience, they watched a Packer practice and toured the Hall of Fame.

Alex Phillips

alex_s_phillips_2017-800x1200Neuberger, Griggs, Sweet and Smith LLP is proud to announce the addition of our newest attorney, Alex Phillips. Alex is a Pulaski, Wisconsin native and attended the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, receiving a Bachelors in 2014. Alex then attended the University of Wisconsin Law School, graduating in 2017. Alex will practice in the areas of civil litigation, insurance coverage disputes, personal injury, Worker’s Compensation and criminal defense. He is looking forward to getting to know the Watertown area and representing its residents.

Firm Donates to Local Charities

December_2015_Stocking_Exchange_Gifts_340_192Neuberger, Griggs, Sweet & Smith, LLP is happy to continue its community involvement with donations to the Watertown Human Society and Mary’s Room this holiday season. Donations included cash and items, including dog food and treats, toys and diapers.

Both organizations support wonderful causes. The Watertown Humane Society provides for the lost, homeless, neglected and abused animals of the City of Watertown and surrounding communities and educates and enlightens the public regarding animal welfare. Mary’s Room is a collaborative effort of the Watertown community businesses, churches, and other charitable organizations that provides items such as diapers and wipes to women and children in the 0-3 age range.

Neuberger, Griggs, Sweet & Smith, LLP has served clients from our offices in Watertown and Lake Mills since 1922. Our firm regularly serves clients located in Dodge County, Jefferson County, Dane County, Columbia County, Washington County, and Waukesha County, the communities of the Watertown, Lake Mills, Waterloo, Johnson Creek, Reeseville, Ixonia, Oconomowoc, Sullivan, Jefferson, Cambridge, Columbus, Deerfield, Marshall, Juneau, Fort Atkinson, Beaver Dam, Hartford, Madison, Sun Prairie, Monona Grove, Cottage Grove, McFarland, Stoughton, Edgerton, Delafield, Pewaukee, Dousman, Hartland, Brookfield, and Waukesha, and all of Wisconsin.

Mark S. Sweet Announces Candidacy for Judge

Attorney Mark S. Sweet has announced that he will seek the Municipal Judge position for the City of Watertown in the 2015 spring election. Attorney Sweet would succeed Municipal Judge Ron Ziwisky, who announced earlier this year he would be retiring at the end of his term. Attorney Sweet is the first person to announce his candidacy for the upcoming election.

Attorney Sweet has been a partner with Neuberger, Griggs, Sweet & Smith, LLP since 1993, having originally joined the firm in 1991. Attorney Sweet looks to continue the firm’s tradition of judicial service. Previously, George E. Niemann, Arnold K. Schumann, John M. Ullsvik, and William H. Woodard, all affiliated with the firm during its history, have served as Circuit Court Judges.

Attorney Sweet will remain an active attorney and continue to practice with the firm if elected as Municipal Judge. Attorney Sweet practices in a range of areas, with particular expertise in the representation of individuals injured in accidents. He is admitted to practice law in California and Wisconsin. Attorney Sweet is a member of both the California Bar Association and Wisconsin Bar Association, a sustaining member of the Wisconsin Academy of Trial Lawyers, and holds membership in the American Trial Lawyers Association, American Bar Association, Dodge County Bar Association, and Jefferson County Bar Association. He is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Wisconsin Academy of Trial Lawyers.

Neuberger, Griggs, Sweet & Smith, LLP has served clients from our offices in Watertown and Lake Mills since 1922. Our firm regularly serves clients located in Dodge County, Jefferson County, Dane County, Columbia County, Washington County, and Waukesha County, the communities of the Watertown, Lake Mills, Waterloo, Johnson Creek, Reeseville, Ixonia, Oconomowoc, Sullivan, Jefferson, Cambridge, Columbus, Deerfield, Marshall, Juneau, Fort Atkinson, Beaver Dam, Hartford, Madison, Sun Prairie, Monona Grove, Cottage Grove, McFarland, Stoughton, Edgerton, Delafield, Pewaukee, Dousman, Hartland, Brookfield, and Waukesha, and all of Wisconsin.

Importance of Advance Directives

Often when people think of estate planning they are focused on the disposition of their assets and minimizing tax implication. However, advance directives are a very important component of any estate plan and they are relevant for every person regardless of their wealth. Advance directives are legal instructions that express your wishes regarding your financial and health care decisions. If an individual has not previously executed advance directives and can no longer make decisions for themselves due to an accident, illness, or mental affliction, legal proceedings in court to appoint a guardian for the individual will likely be necessary. An individual’s family members are not automatically authorized to make decisions for incapacitated family members because Wisconsin is not a “next of kin” or “family consent” state. Guardianship proceedings are exceedingly more lengthy, costly, stressful and public then advance directives.

In Wisconsin there are four different advance directives authorized by statute. The first is the Power of Attorney for Finance and Property. This document grants authority to another person, known as an “agent,” to make legal and financial decisions on your behalf. The powers granted can be broad or limited in scope. Your agent can assist you with your personal finances, insurance policies, government benefits, estate plan, taxes, bank accounts, retirement plans, business interests and essentially any other financial matter.

The second and third advance directives in Wisconsin are the Power of Attorney for Health Care and Declaration to Physicians (a/k/a Living Will). These documents both deal with health care decisions, although the Declaration to Physicians is much more limited in scope. A Power of Attorney for Health Care allows you to appoint an agent to make any health care decisions on your behalf in the event of incapacity. A Declaration to Physicians allows you to only state your preferences regarding receiving or withholding life-sustaining medical treatment if you have a terminal condition or are in a persistent vegetative state.

The final advance directive available in Wisconsin is the Authorization for Final Disposition. The Authorization for Final Disposition allows an individual, known as the “declarant,” to designate and individual to make funeral arrangements upon the declarant’s death. Further, it also allows the declarant to detail their preferences and desires regarding their final disposition and funeral service.

As indicated, advance directives are relatively inexpensive and easy to implement, especially in comparison to the procedure necessary if an individual does not have such documents in place. As with all estate planning issues, it is important to discuss the impact of advance directives with a knowledgeable attorney.

Neuberger, Griggs, Sweet & Smith, LLP has served clients from our offices in Watertown and Lake Mills since 1922. Our firm regularly serves clients located in Dodge County, Jefferson County, Dane County, Columbia County, Washington County, and Waukesha County, the communities of the Watertown, Lake Mills, Waterloo, Johnson Creek, Reeseville, Ixonia, Oconomowoc, Sullivan, Jefferson, Cambridge, Columbus, Deerfield, Marshall, Juneau, Fort Atkinson, Beaver Dam, Hartford, Madison, Sun Prairie, Monona Grove, Cottage Grove, McFarland, Stoughton, Edgerton, Delafield, Pewaukee, Dousman, Hartland, Brookfield, and Waukesha, and all of Wisconsin.