1. You’ve never updated your will or trust
As the years go by, life happens. Perhaps you have children or even grandchildren now. Perhaps you are divorced or have recently retired. All of these life changes should be reflected in your estate planning documents. The law also changes. Both North and South Carolina have enacted changes to their probate statutes in the past five years. To make sure you stay ahead of these changes, it is best to review your estate planning documents every couple of years. Sometimes, people haven’t looked at their wills for so long, they are surprised at what the document says! Update your documents now if you have had a life or family change such as marriage, divorce, the birth of a new child, or retirement.
2. You never funded your trust
Many people created revocable trusts a few years ago but never funded them. I have had numerous people come in to my office with a one dollar bill or a ten dollar bill attached to a list of assets and nothing else in the trust. If you haven’t funded your trust, it will not avoid probate. If you only partially fund your trust, it will not avoid probate. Any asset left outside of your trust that is titled solely in your name, may require probate. The goal is to transfer all probate assets into the trust so the trust will achieve its purpose. Keep in mind that simply listing the asset on a list of assets is not always enough. For example, in order to transfer real estate into your trust, you must obtain and record a new deed. If you haven’t done this, it doesn’t matter that the house is listed on a list of trust assets; it is not in your trust. If you have a question or concern about whether an asset has been properly transferred to your trust, contact my office.
3. You can’t find your documents
If you can’t find your documents, no one else can either. Make sure you know where your documents are located. Also tell the person you have chosen to be your Healthcare Agent, Power of Attorney, Executor, Personal Representative, or successor trustee where to find your documents in the event of an emergency. In some cases, a copy of a document is sufficient. However, your Executor or Personal Representative will need to probate your original will. Therefore, you must protect your original will in a safe place where it is accessible to your Executor or Personal Representative. (See the blog post about accessing a safety deposit box.) For other estate planning documents, consult an attorney to determine whether an original is required.
4. Nobody but you knows about your estate plan
In my opinion, it is best to be open with your loved ones about your estate plan, but this is not always possible. If you don’t feel comfortable sharing your estate plan with family members, you need to discuss this with your attorney so your attorney can make sure everything goes smoothly when you are no longer here. The goal is to avoid surprises. In contrast to the movies, the reading of your will should not elicit stunned gasps from family members seated around the drawing room table. Surprised family members challenge estate plans! If your family is blended or has a complicated dynamic, discuss this with your attorney. Always, always let your attorney know how many times you have been married and how many children you have. You can prevent problems for your loved ones later by cooperating with your attorney now to manage expectations and eliminate as many future surprises as possible.