20 COMMON ESTATE PLANNING
MISTAKES TO AVOID
by MICHAEL B. ALLMON, C.P.A.
1. Communicate with your executor/trustee(s), and guardians (too many people do not). Make sure that your
intended executor/trustee(s) will serve. Also, make sure that your intended executor/trustee(s) understand your
wishes; A good idea- have a meeting with your attorney and executor/trustee(s) present (to make sure your
documents reflect those wishes).
2. Sentimental items should be specifically bequeathed to avoid family fighting. Make sure that specific bequests are
accurately identified, and that they still exist (one item to check when reviewing your plans).
3. You must read, and understand your documents!! Review them in detail with your attorney.
4. All letters of instruction, and other “non-binding," or binding handwritten notes must be reviewed by the attorney.
5. Everyone has a will (if you do not, State law has one for you), make sure it represents your current desires.
6. Plan carefully for eventual pension distributions. Taxes can be as high as 80%, or more, of the proceeds without
7. Make sure that all assets are in trust name, if you have a trust.
8. Keep list of addresses and phone numbers of beneficiaries. This list should be kept in a place known to your
executor, or should be given to your attorney, executor, and/or certain close family members.
9. Consider importance of family pets.
10. Family photos, passwords, computers, etc. - who will get them and who has passwords?
11. Credit card numbers, addresses, phone numbers (to cancel); social security card (death benefits may apply);
retirement plans list.
12. Organize information for death certificate- parents’ names, birth places, military service, etc. Also keep
information about possible military benefits, if applicable.
13. Address potential environmental issues with real estate (so executor does not have to). This alone can keep your
intended executor from accepting his/her appointment.
14. Periodically review important records- if you have too many, executor may accidentally throw away important
records when cleaning files
15. Check beneficiary designations on all life insurance policies, pension plans, etc. to be sure that they are
compatible with your estate plans. These items pass to heirs independent of your estate plans.
16. Review your estate planning documents often- when family or financial circumstances change (at least every five
17. Be sure that both your doctor and attorney have recent medical directives from you.
18. If you have named co-trustees, have you provided for the potential of disagreements between them?
19. Joint tenancy Vs. Community property- Joint tenancy has the advantage of avoiding probate. It has substantial
disadvantages, including income tax consequences to the beneficiaries. Make sure that the form of title that you
choose is intentional, and that you understand why you hold it as such. Also consider changing title to
“Community Property with Rights of Survivorship” or to your living trust.
20. Immediate post-death activities; Plan for services, burial/ cremation, etc. (Many religions require prompt
disposition of remains- the family is grieving, not wanting to make those decisions. Make them now.)