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Avoid the Most Common Estate Planning Mistakes

By Lane V. Erickson, Idaho Estate Planning Attorney

Maybe it was one of your friends that got their estate planning done and they told you about how important it was. Or, maybe you’ve had a family member or other loved one pass away recently and you saw how difficult things were because no planning was in place. Or, maybe you have young kids, or a family member who is disabled or who suffers from addictions. Perhaps you have a family history of Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia or health issues and you are concerned about how you will be taken care of in your later years. Or, it could be that you have a large amount of assets and you are concerned about how to handle them both while you are alive or after you’ve passed away.

Whatever the motivation, the fact that you are reading this article indicates that you are interested in getting your estate planning done. That’s fantastic because having a plan in place is important for you, your family and loved ones. The Idaho estate planning attorneys on the Racine Olson team can help you. We have assisted clients in completing their customized estate plans for over 70 years. While each plan is unique and should be customized to fit the individual needs of each person there are some basics that everyone should have.

Now that you have the motivation, don’t let it go away. Also, don’t settle for just a cookie-cutter estate plan that doesn’t meet your unique and particular needs. Rather, use the motivation you are feeling to help you avoid the most common mistakes that people make when it comes to getting an estate plan. Below is a list of these common mistakes and a short explanation of how you can avoid each of them yourself.

Not Having a Plan

The most common mistake that happens is when a person doesn’t have a written estate plan in the first place. Each person should have at the very minimum, the basic estate planning documents which include a last will and testament, a durable power of attorney, a living will, and a power of attorney for health care. To this, depending on a person’s needs, our clients may also add various types or kinds of trusts.

Each of these documents should be customized to fit your particular needs. We help each of our clients obtain a customized written estate plan by giving them an Estate Planning Questionnaire form they can fill out with their own information. This form is easy to follow, easy to fill out, and it also provides a good deal of information about the various choices each client can choose from to meet the needs for themselves personally while they are alive and their family and loved ones after they have passed away

Once the Estate Planning Questionnaire form is completed, we then schedule a free 30-minute consultation with each person to go over the information they have provided. We find out from each of our clients what it is they really want to accomplish when it comes to themselves, their family, and their loved ones. Then we talk with each client about the options they have to choose from that will meet each of their needs. Once this is completed we then provide our clients with the flat fee prices that we charge for each of the services that they may need. We do all of this for free so that our clients will have a good understanding of what it is they need and what the costs will be before they have any obligation to us.

You have nothing to lose so we encourage you to fill out the Estate Planning Questionnaire form and then schedule a free 30-minute consultation with us so we can answer your questions and help you understand how having a written estate plan could help you and your family or loved ones.

Forgetting to Update Your Plan

Getting your estate plan done helps you avoid the first mistake. However, even after this you’re not done. You still need to avoid the other mistakes that people often make. The next most common mistake is when a person fails to update their written estate plan.

Life doesn’t just stand still. Over time people are born, people die, people get married, people get divorced, people move away, and relationships can change. Because life is always changing, your written Idaho estate plan should also change to meet what your current needs are, not what they were 5 or 10 years ago.

To avoid the mistake of forgetting to update your written estate plan, we encourage our clients to review their plan regularly. We especially encourage this any time they go through a major life change like those that are listed above. We’ve found that if a person has gone through a change, when they read their written estate plan, the updates they need to make become very obvious.

For example, let’s suppose that you are married, and you prepare a written estate plan where you specifically state that you will be leaving everything to your spouse when you die. Also, you have appointed your spouse to be your power of attorney under both your durable power and your power of attorney for health care.

Now suppose that you are divorced from that spouse. Because of your divorce, if you simply read your written plan you will likely want to change it to remove your ex-spouse as both a beneficiary and as the person you appoint to do things for you.

When you see that a change is needed, we encourage you to contact us. We are confident that we can help you update your plan to meet your current needs, and not those that existed years ago when you created your plan.

Failing to Plan for Minor/Disabled Children

In addition to avoiding the mistakes listed above, the next most common mistake that people make when it comes to their written estate plan is that they fail to plan for their minor children or for children that have disabilities.

A minor age child is a person who is under the age of 18. Part of your estate plan should designate who you want to have be the guardian of your children who are under the age of 18. Under Idaho law, you have the ability to nominate a guardian through your written last will and testament. We help all parents of young children get this accomplished.

Additionally, we often have clients who have children who are disabled. The disability could actually be a physical or mental handicap. Or, it could be a child who is suffering from some type of addiction to alcohol, drugs, or other harmful substances or behaviors.

When it comes to minor age children or children who have disabilities, we often help parents create a written plan that will provide for their children without giving money, property, or assets directly to them until they reach an age, or a position in their life, where they are able to handle these types of things. For some children with disabilities, there will never be a time when they can receive these items directly. Rather, in these circumstances, parents usually set up a specialized trust that will help their disabled child throughout their entire lives.

Again, the Estate Planning Questionnaire form and the free 30-minute consultation help us determine if these needs exist and also help the parents come up with a plan that they are comfortable with that will help their child. Remember, one of the main purposes of a written estate plan is to provide for your family and loved ones after you have passed away.

Not Completing Beneficiary Designations

The final mistake that we will talk about in this article that people often make when it comes to a written estate plan is that they fail to complete their beneficiary designations on certain types of accounts. These accounts would include retirement accounts such as 401Ks, 403bs, IRAs, pensions, and so forth. These designations could also be on insurance contracts, annuities, and other types of investment or bank accounts.

Most of these accounts come with a beneficiary designation form as part of the basic contract associated with that account. You have the opportunity to list of beneficiaries you want for each of these accounts. You also have the right to update these beneficiary designations whenever you want, and as often as you want.

These are things that we counsel our clients about during the free 30-minute consultation that we provide them with.

If you are reading this article it’s because you have questions or concerns about your own estate planning. We are confident that we can help. We encourage you to download the Estate Planning Questionnaire form and then schedule a free 30-minute consultation with us so we can answer your questions and help you with your customized Idaho estate planning.

Enlist an Idaho Estate Planning Attorney to Help You

Our team of Idaho lawyers can help you with any of your estate planning or probate needs. Whether you are seeking to create or review an estate plan for yourself or would like to help a loved one, we are available to discuss your options and answer your questions at an initial free 30-minute consultation. Call us toll free at 877-232-6101 or 208-232-6101 for a free consultation. You can also email us directly at or stop by our office at 201 East Center Street, Pocatello, Idaho 83201. We will answer your questions and help you solve your Idaho Estate Planning problems.

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