How Can You Avoid the Top 10 Estate Planning Pitfalls?

Upon your death, the best thing you can do for loved ones upon death is allow them to resolve your estate quickly and easily, so they can get on with their lives. But people often fall into 10 estate planning traps. Here is how to avoid them. Understanding and avoiding these common errors can help minimize the tax bite for your heirs and assure that your wishes are fulfilled.

1.  Not funding your living trust

This important trust places your assets “in bin” while you are alive. Postmortem a pre-appointed trustee is provided to manage them. Living trusts can usually help avoid probate (a costly court proceeding that decides which heirs receive your assets after your death) and help reduce taxes on your estate. No matter how thorough your living trust is, it needs to be adequately funded. Generally, to be effective, you must move property and assets into the trust by making the trust the legal owner of those assets. If you don’t make the appropriate title transfers, assets may be subject to probate and eventually, estate taxes.

2.  Too much JTWROS property

Joint-tenancy-with-right-of-survivorship (JTWROS) is a type of brokerage account that you share with your family members while you are alive. After you pass away, your survivors inherit your share of the account. While titling assets under JTWROS does avoid probate, it does not avoid estate taxes. It is important to keep in mind that property titled JTWROS goes to the surviving joint tenant regardless of what a will or trust says.

3.  Leaving too many assets to a surviving spouse

Under the current tax laws, you are allowed to transfer as many assets in your estate as you wish to your spouse either while you are alive or at your death. The problem and extra tax may come when those assets pass to the next generation. A major goal of a living trust is to preserve the first-to-die spouse’s applicable exclusion amount. This is the amount that is exempt from estate and gift taxes. It is advisable to check the current amounts with your attorney.

4.  Not equalizing assets through gifts between spouses

This is another example of improper titling and wasting the applicable exclusion amount. Having all property titled in one spouse’s name can create problems when the non-titled spouse dies first and does not pass on any property under his or her credit.

5.  Not having a will

If you die without a will, the disposition of property falls under the purview of the state intestacy laws. In effect, a judge decides who gets what according to a preset formula based on lineage. Not only can your wishes be thwarted, but this process can also bring additional legal costs, taxes, delays and frustrations to your heirs.

6.  Improper ownership of life insurance

Policies are often owned by the insured, payable to the insured’s estate or survivors. This is included in the owner’s taxable estate and is therefore subject to estate taxes. You can avoid this by giving the policies directly to the beneficiaries or transferring them to an irrevocable trust.

7.  Being donor and custodian of a UTMA account

If you are the custodian and donor to a uniform transfer to minors account, that account will be included in your estate and possibly subject to painful estate taxes.

8.  Not knowing where all the documents are

Heirs are often burdened with hunting down accounts and documentation. A scattered estate plan by a secretive deceased person may cause some assets to be left uncollected, undistributed and even lost. It is best to keep copies of documents, recent account statements and safe deposit box information in a notebook and to make your trusted heirs aware of its contents.

9.  Naming the wrong executor

The tasks facing an executor are often formidable and demanding. If you are concerned that your spouse, relatives or friends are not up to the task, consider hiring a professional or a trust company.

10. Not periodically updating an estate plan

It is human nature to think about dying. That makes estate planning one of the most frequently procrastinated aspects of our financial plans. Often when the original documents are drafted, people are tempted to put it on a shelf and be done with them.

As your economic situation, health, family and the tax code inevitably change, so too should your estate plan. You should review your estate plan at least every couple of years. It’s best to work with an experienced advisor who can help make the necessary modifications.

Even the most sophisticated estate planning tools can go awry due to some simple oversights. Be sure to work with an experienced financial professional to help you achieve your estate planning goals.

Uncertainty over the economy and financial markets has many people concerned about their financial futures. For friends, relatives and colleagues who may find this information helpful, please feel free to share with them.  Remember, for those who could benefit we offer a complimentary “Second Opinion” that can offer an objective financial review. Keep us in mind for those who may be seeking a wealth management firm like ours—one that delivers services according to the needs and perspectives of its clients.

This material is being provided for information purposes only and is not a complete description, nor is it a recommendation. Wells Fargo Advisors Financial Network LLC (WFAFN) does not provide tax or legal advice. We strongly recommend an advanced tax and estate planning expert be contacted for further information. Any opinions are those of Mitchell Kauffman and not necessarily those of WFAFN. The information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but Wells Fargo Advisors Financial Network does not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete.  Prior to making a financial decision, please consult with your financial advisor about your individual situation.

Mitchell Kauffman provides wealth management services to corporate executives, business owners, professionals, independent women, and the affluent. He is one of only five financial advisors from across the U.S. named to Research magazine’s prestigious Advisor Hall of Fame in 2010, and among a select list of 100 over the past 20 years.

Inductees into the Advisor Hall of Fame have passed a rigorous screening, served a minimum of 15 years in the industry, acquired substantial assets under management, demonstrate superior client service, and have earned recognition from their peers and the broader community.

Kauffman’s articles have appeared in national publications, and he is often quoted in the media. He is an Instructor of Financial Planning and Investment Management at the University of California at Santa Barbara and Santa Barbara City College.

For more information, visit www.kauffmanwm.com or call (866) 467-8981. Kauffman Wealth Management and serves clients from two office locations: 140 South Lake Avenue, Suite 307, Pasadena, CA 91101 and 550 Periwinkle Lane, Santa Barbara, CA 93108 (by appointment only).   Investment products and services are offered through Wells Fargo Advisors Financial Network LLC (WFAFN), Member SIPC.  Kauffman Wealth Management is a separate entity from WFAFN.