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Mistakes to avoid when crafting wills and an estate plan


Many Washington residents think of writing a will and other forms of estate planning as a once-in-a-lifetime process, and for some of them, that may well be the case. But a person's life can go through many important changes in between executing a will and passing away. It is important to make sure that wills, insurance policies and other documents take into account the a person's life changes.

One problem that often goes undiscovered until a person passes away is the failure to change a beneficiary on life insurance policies or retirement accounts. For example, if a man names his wife as beneficiary, but the two later divorce and he remarries, typically, the first wife will still receive the money when he passes away unless he changes the beneficiary. Also, if a person fails to name a contingent beneficiary - someone who will inherit the asset if the named beneficiary dies first - then the asset will have to go through the probate process before it can be distributed to heirs.

Similar problems can come up when a will is not written carefully. Washington residents who are executing a will must list alternative heirs in case something happens to their named beneficiaries. If they fail to take this precaution, Washington law will pick heirs for them, with results that may not seem fair.

The one thing people like less than thinking about their own deaths is the possibility that their loved ones might die before they do. Nonetheless, a simple and effective estate plan must take into account this unwelcome possibility. Washington residents who want to ensure the well-being of their family after they pass away should get help understanding how to plan for many possibilities. They should also periodically check to make sure that their estate plan has been updated to account for the many ways their lives have changed since they last worked on it.

Source: Heritage Newspapers, "Six common estate planning mistakes and how to avoid them," Shawn Bumgardner, Oct. 14, 2013

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