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Avoid these common pitfalls in estate planning

Estate planning attorneys are finding that people are increasingly drafting wills and other estate documents at younger ages than in the past. The unexpected deaths of so many celebrities last year got a lot of people thinking about their own mortality sooner than they might have otherwise. The widespread coverage of terrorist attacks and other violent events that costs people of all ages their lives can have the same impact.

Nonetheless, only about a third of all Americans had a will last year. If you're seriously considering developing an estate plan, you're already ahead of the game. You can save your family conflict and money after you are gone. You can also include documents to help ensure that your wishes for your health care and finances will be carried out if you become incapacitated and unable to speak for yourself.

There are a number of pitfalls both in the way that an estate plan is drafted and maintained and in other decisions that people make in conjunction with their estate planning if not done properly. That's why it's essential to have the guidance of a California estate planning attorney who can help you avoid as many of those as possible.

For example, sometimes people think it's easier to go ahead and transfer one of their properties (either the family home or vacation home) to their children while they're still alive rather than put it in their will. However, if that child files for bankruptcy, you could have creditors potentially taking your home.

Similarly, people sometimes transfer significant amounts of money to their children to help them avoid estate taxes. However, if you end up living another few decades, this could leave you without the resources you need in your old age.

Too many people develop their estate plans and then forget about them. A good rule of thumb is that you should thoroughly review these documents every three years, and of course more often if there are significant life changes like marriage, divorce, additional children or grandchildren or a new home.

Careful estate planning takes a lot of time and thought about what you want to leave behind. It may not be pleasant to think about, but after you've done it, you'll likely feel a sense of ease that you didn't have before.

Source: New York Times, "Wills Can Avert Family Warfare, but Have Their Own Hidden Traps," Janet Morrissey, April 21, 2017

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