Even the most diligent people can easily forget to include important information in a Will or an estate plan. Sometimes, the excluded information is merely a hassle for loved ones after a death. Other times, though, omissions can lead to costly and protracted legal battles.
Below are 10 items that we often see missing from Wills and estate plans that we encourage our clients to include in theirs:
- Alternate Beneficiaries: An alternative beneficiary can step in if, for any reason, the named beneficiary is unable to take possession of the property. This is important if the named beneficiary predeceases the testator. Without a beneficiary, the court may have to decide who takes possession of those assets.
- Account Beneficiaries: While beneficiaries are named in Wills, there are certain assets, like bank accounts and insurance policies, that must have designated beneficiaries listed on the account. This is a seemingly simple task people can do on their own, either online or by contacting the bank or institution.
- Personal Property: Whether its grandpa’s lucky penny or a state-of-the-art home entertainment system, items that have monetary or personal value should be clearly designated to specific people. This information can be included in a Will, but that can be difficult to update over the years. A personal property memorandum is a separate document that details which friends, family members or other entities are to inherit specific property.
- Digital Assets: From paying bills and managing investments to browsing social media and reading the newspaper, much of our lives are now spent online. An inventory of all online accounts, along with passwords, should be passed on to a trusted person, along with instructions on how you want the accounts to be handled. For instance, some social media platforms allow profiles to convert into “in memoriam” pages. Learn more in How to Include Digital Assets to Your Estate Planning.
- Pets: Be sure your animals are cared for after your death by designating a caretaker and leaving that person resources to help pay for the pet’s food, veterinarian bills, etc. A pet trust can be created as part of an estate plan.
- Membership Information: Do you belong to a gym? Are you a member of the Meat of the Month Club? Do you go the local library twice a month to help restock books? Are you a regular fixture at church providing meals to homeless people? Leave pertinent information, including account passwords and contact numbers, so that memberships and commitments can be canceled.
- Attorney’s Information: Be sure the person you named as executor and your family have the name and contact information for your attorney. Also, give your attorney their contact information. In rare instances, the attorney may need to contact a client about an important change to his or her own circumstances or even the law, but the client can’t be reached due to incapacitation by illness or injury.
- Keys: We all have that junk drawer of random keys. While you may know which key unlocks the desk drawer containing important documents, no one else will. Be sure to label keys, even with a number, then provide a separate list detailing which keys unlock storage units, the garage, lockboxes, your diary, etc.
- Letter of Instructions: Consider leaving a cover letter with specific instructions and wishes about your estate. This can include details on where certain documents are kept and instructions on who can live in the house or if you want your heirs to sell it. A letter like this can help remove any ambiguity that might be encountered in the Will.
- Letters of Love: Leave those you love with a kind good-bye and remembrance of you. Remind your kids and grandkids that you are always proud of them and tell dear friends how much they mean to you. Be sure to leave instructions on disseminating these letters.