Do's and Don'ts of Estate Planning


For the sake of clarity, the term "Estate Planning" applies everything from Wills and Powers of Attorney to elaborate Trusts. 


  • Update your documents more than once a decade.  That's right.  I recently saw a Will that was fifty (50) years old!  Fortunately, some of the folks listed in it were still alive. If your documents pre-date cell phones, update them!
  • Read your documents.  Even if an attorney drafted the documents, read them. Make sure you understand the documents. Recently I saw a document where the attorney did not change the name on the document from one (1) of his/her previous clients.  That document was invalid. You need to make sure the words on the page are what they need to be. 
  • Love yourself and your family enough to have the documents.  Those who love their families make difficult times easier with documents that prevent the family from having to get court orders to do things that a simple Power of Attorney or Advanced Care Plan could have covered. If you don't love them enough for this (it happens) then love yourself enough to tell others what you want to be done with your health when you can't speak for yourself. 
  • Update your beneficiary forms regularly.  Insurance and investment companies simply do not do a good job of prompting you to update these forms regularly.  Review them every year.  Things change.


  • Delay writing your documents.  When you are at room temperature, it's too late to legally communicate your wishes to anyone. Maybe someone can carry out the wishes you told them, but they may not. You just don't know.  If you legally and simply place your wishes in writing, they can be carried out. 
  • Have a Trust without a Will.  If you are asking yourself whether or not you should have a Trust or a Will, the answer is if nothing else, have a Will.  If you have a Trust, that's fine, but time and time again, Trusts simply don't catch everything in an estate.  
  • Have your documents scattered.  It is so easy to have all of your documents in the same spot.  Just do it, so your estate doesn't become a scavenger hunt while the potato salad (yes, I'm from the South) sours. 
  • Have your documents in a bank lockbox in which you are the only one with access to it.  When you die, the court has to give someone authority to get into the individually owned lockbox. If someone is on the account with you, they should have access to the box. If not, it creates a big problem. I'm not a fan of these documents being in a bank lockbox at all, but if you are going to do it, have someone else on it. 
  • Have digital-only accounts without logging them somewhere.  You live off your cellphone. That's fine. All your accounts are on that cellphone. That's convenient. Your cellphone is locked. That prevents someone from stealing that information. That's smart. All the information is "paperless". That's environmentally friendly. It also prevents your estate from getting to all those accounts. List that information and keep it with your other documents so that your estate knows the information. 
  • List your "Estate" as a beneficiary unless you have talked to an attorney first.  Sometimes it makes sense to list your "Estate" as your beneficiary, but it can unnecessarily inflate your estate for tax purposes and slow the passing of the money down. So, do this at your own risk.

If you have questions or need help, just let me know. 


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