By: Mary Ellen Flynn, Esq.
A last Will and testament is an important document that outlines how to handle your assets and affairs upon your death per your wishes.
While the concept of this document is simple, the preparation of it can feel overwhelming and confusing. This confusion can cause mistakes within the Will, resulting in difficulties for your family members.
Avoid making the ten common mistakes listed below to protect your final wishes.
1. Not updating your Will as life events happen.
It is important to remember that your Will is only helpful if it’s an accurate reflection of your assets and affairs. Therefore, after you create a Will, you want to update it as significant life events happen. Such life events could include births, adoptions, deaths, divorces, moving to a different state, new business ventures, getting married or divorced, or buying a house.
2. Not storing your Will with original signatures properly or not giving instructions to someone about the location of your Will.
Your family members and loved ones should know the location of your Will. Many law firms will store your original Will for you. Another good option is to keep your Will in a fireproof safe in your home. No matter where you store your Will, you will want to ensure someone has instructions to find it. A missing last Will and testament will do your loved ones no good.
One thing you will not want to do is store your Will in a safe deposit box due to many states not allowing the safe deposit box to be opened after your death without a court order.
3. Not providing what should happen with and for your children.
If you have a minor child(ren), is it essential to name a guardian for both their physical and financial needs upon your death. Furthermore, you may want to include trust provisions for young adults that will prevent them from immediately having access to their inheritance.
4. Not outlining what should happen with your pet.
If you have a pet and the pet outlives you, you will want to make sure the pet is taken care of. Provisions for animal care for your pets in your Will ensure someone will take care of your pets.
5. Not including a residuary clause to dispose of all your assets not specifically listed in your Will.
A residuary clause is an excellent way to ensure that all your assets are distributed to your beneficiaries and not taken by the state. Suppose you don’t have such a clause. In that case, the state laws may dictate where your property not explicitly mentioned in your estate documents will go.
6. Not including instructions for your digital assets.
Nearly every person has a life online with digital accounts they interact with daily. Many people don’t think to include these accounts in your Will. However, if you don’t maintain a record of your online accounts, it can take your family members a long time to track them down. These online assets can include banking logins, social media accounts, email accounts, and digital photos. Therefore, it’s crucial to bequeath your digital information and property in your Will.
Furthermore, you can name a digital executor in your Will who can manage or shut down your online accounts and handle your digital assets according to your instructions.
7. Forgetting about estate taxes and other debts that will affect the amount in your estate.
It’s important to remember about estate taxes when writing your Will. Your beneficiaries could acquire less than you intended if you do not consider potential debts, such as your bills and any income, gift, or federal and state estate taxes. The laws are constantly changing, so even if you don’t think you’ll meet the threshold for such taxes, you should not assume such a conclusion when creating your Will.
8. Getting facts wrong.
It’s vital to get the facts right when creating your Will. You will want to ensure all facts regarding your assets and beneficiaries are correct to ensure no fighting over your intended wishes. You will want to make sure you leave no room for doubt.
9. Not executing your Will correctly.
After putting in the work of creating your Will, the last thing you want is to allow it to be challenged and thrown out entirely due to incorrectly executing your Will. If you improperly execute your Will, your estate could be treated as an “intestate estate,” meaning the state law would decide who inherits from you, not the words in your Will. Therefore, knowing your state’s requirements for executing a Will is important.
For example, in Maryland, a Will must be signed by the person making the Will (testator) and attested and signed by two credible witnesses in the presence of the person making the Will. The testator must be at least 18 years of age and legally competent at the time of signing.
10. Not having a Will at all.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is not creating a Will. It is a common disbelief that one needs to be old or wealthy to need a Will, but that’s not the case! All adults should have a Will as it can save time and money for your loved ones as they handle your remaining assets and affairs. Properly creating and executing a Will allows your final wishes to be clear for your loved ones to see and understand.
About Andalman & Flynn, P.C.: Founded in 1998 in downtown Silver Spring, Maryland, Andalman & Flynn has forged a distinguished reputation for legal excellence. The Firm practices family law, estate planning, and probate throughout Maryland and the District of Columbia, and represents individuals seeking disability benefits throughout the country. The Firm focuses on cases that impact the rights of everyone and is there for clients when responsive legal help is most critical. The Firm has provided legal analysis on national and local television and radio, and its attorneys often testify before legislative bodies and are routinely invited to contribute to prominent legal publications. For more information about Andalman & Flynn, please visit the website at andalmanflynn.com or call 301.563.6685.