Guest post by Sarah Siedentopf, Siedentopf Law
The 2020 pandemic has made many Georgians aware that preparation is essential when it comes to their health and safety. The same is true for estate planning. With the appropriate documents in place, you can have peace of mind knowing that you, your family, and your assets are going to be protected. Updating your estate plan is not something you should rush, though. Below are some common mistakes that people tend to make when they are in a hurry to complete the estate planning process.
Mistake #1 Allowing Stress and Emotions to Drive the Estate Planning Process
The pandemic and its related health guidelines have undoubtedly created some stressful and emotionally-heightened situations. But don’t let those emotions drive your estate planning process. If you try to throw together a plan while you’re already anxious and distracted, there is a good chance that you will miss some critical details. It might not even meet all the legal requirements! Instead, focus on your primary goal: protecting yourself and your loved ones. You want to make sure your estate will be distributed in a way that this matches your desires and family structure. Cover all your bases with an appropriate Will, Power of Attorney, and an Advance Directive for Health Care.
Mistake #2 Not Working with an Experienced Estate Planning Attorney
While Do-It-Yourself projects have become popular during 2020, it is not a good way to tackle estate planning. Proper estate planning involves much more than printing forms from the internet or handwriting a document. It is knowing how to draft and execute the proper documents to legally ensure your wishes are carried out. If someone does not draft their estate planning documents correctly – if they unknowingly miss a component or a signature – it can change the entire effect of the document, or worse, render it invalid. For example, if a will is not properly executed (in writing, signed, and witnessed), the document is not legally valid. Fixing a DIY will can cost you court fees, penalties, and lost time.
By hiring an attorney from the start, you can avoid expensive mistakes and legal disputes in the future. It can also provide peace of mind knowing that your estate plan is correctly drafted, the documents reflect your wishes and that your friends and loved ones are protected. While current health guidelines discourage in-person meetings, virtual conferences are a great way to get started. The governor has also issued a (temporary) executive order authorizing remote notarizations and signings.
Mistake #3 Assuming Your Existing Estate Documents Are Sufficient
An estate plan is a collection of living documents; as your family changes, your estate plan should change as well. It is a good idea (during a health crisis or otherwise) to review your estate plan every few years, and especially after significant events such as births, deaths, marriages, or divorces within your family. This way you can ensure that your estate plan aligns with your current financial goals, protects your loved ones, and leaves your current assets to your specified beneficiaries. Additionally, you should also regularly check your retirement plans and insurance policies to make sure the beneficiary designations are still correct.
Working with an experienced estate planning attorney will help ensure that all of your estate documents are updated and adhere to current Georgia legal standards.
Mistake #4 Not Having a Storage Plan
Now that you have completed your estate planning documents, be sure to let your family know where the documents are safely stored. This issue arises quite frequently when family members can’t find a will, even though they think there is one. There is no requirement that the will be filed anywhere during the testator’s lifetime, but it is possible to have the probate court hold the will until it is needed. This adds complexity because of the possibility of moving or needing to retrieve and update the will, but it is an option. Many people also choose safe deposit boxes at the bank or home storage options such as fireproof boxes as storage options.
The important part is generally not where the estate plan is stored, but that the people who need the documents know where to find them. One caveat to this is that while digital storage is great, the original will is needed for probate and an original power of attorney is needed to sell real property. So make sure the original documents are in a safe place.
These times of uncertainty have motivated many individuals to work on their estate plans. While it is important to have a plan in place that will protect you and your family, it is also essential that those documents be comprehensive and accurate. Putting your plan together in a rush can lead to costly mistakes. If you have additional questions about estate planning or updating your current documents, please contact Siedentopf Law at (404) 736-6066 or via our website.
Sarah Siedentopf is an estate planning and probate attorney who helps individuals and families with wills, trusts, probate, and end of life planning. Her firm, Siedentopf Law, is conveniently located in the Buckhead/Brookhaven area of Atlanta, Georgia. Sarah is particularly passionate about helping clients navigate complicated, emotional issues and making the process as easy and stress-free as possible. Sarah has earned a number of awards and honors in her legal career, including most recently the Super Lawyer’s Rising Star in Estate Law and the Daily Report’s Best Social Mediator.
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