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Updating an estate plan regularly can avoid common errors

Regardless of their net worth and assets, New Yorkers can always benefit from having a comprehensive and well-drafted estate plan. However, there are mistakes that can upend any estate plan, no matter how much forethought the testator puts into it. This is true no matter whether it is a large estate or one of more modest means. Failure to be an active participant when the estate plan is drafted often leaves the person unaware of what is in it. Finding an estate planner who will explain to the testator exactly how the document will benefit the beneficiaries is key.

The beneficiary designations are vital. The will and the beneficiary designation forms are different. Even if the will says one thing, the beneficiary designation forms detail who will get what from the estate. If the testator fails to update this accordingly, it could go to a person the testator did not want to leave it to, such as an ex-spouse. Asset ownership must also be updated. The ownership of these assets could be in many forms. These must be consistently reviewed, and the testator must make certain it is still applicable to the current circumstances.

A revocable trust - also referred to as a living trust - is a strategy to steer clear of probate. It can also be useful for disability planning and more. The trust must be adequately funded to be effective, and the legal title to assets must be transferred into it. Certain assets can be more complex than others when transferring them to a trust. Examples include real estate, financial accounts and automobiles. Trusts and retirement plans must be coordinated. A failure to do so can negatively impact taxes. Specific language must be included so a tax deferral remains with a retirement account. Updates must be made for a power of attorney and for the entire plan. Powers of attorney documents are useful for medical care and for finances.

Changes inevitably occur in a person's life whether it is the birth of a child or grandchild, the death of a loved one, a divorce and much more. Having the estate plan consistently updated to address all the issues that come up is a sound way to ensure that the loved ones are cared for and get what the testator wants them to. Having legal assistance from an attorney who is experienced in estate planning can prepare for all this and more.

Source: Forbes, "Avoiding 7 Deadly Estate Planning Mistakes," Bob Carlson, April 20, 2018

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