You probably already know that dying without a will is a huge error -- one that could leave your loved ones in a financial and legal limbo for quite a while as your estate goes through probate.
However, there are several other mistakes you can make while crafting an estate plan that also spell disaster. Experts say that the biggest ones include:
1. Doing everything yourself
Americans have a uniquely "do-it-yourself" type of culture -- but creating and executing your own legal documents is often a mistake. There are a plethora of online forms available for the process -- but they're no substitute for professional advice that's tailored to your needs. An error in the formation or execution of a legal document could leave you (and your heirs) without the very thing you worked so hard to create.
2. Keeping information hidden
People are often hesitant about discussing family dynamics that could lead to conflicts after their death. They don't want to seem unloving or overly critical of their own family. However, your estate planner isn't going to judge you. Families dynamics are complex things and the stress of a loved one's death often pushes everything into overdrive. If you level with your estate planner about the hidden conflicts in your family, you may find that there are some solutions available that you didn't even know existed.
3. Not expecting trouble after remarriage
If you're happily remarried, you may assume that everyone in your family is happy for you. Unfortunately, that often isn't the case. Stepfamilies often view each other with suspicion and harbor somewhat frosty feelings. If you don't remember to revisit your estate plans after a remarriage, it could spell trouble for both your children from a previous relationship or your current spouse -- depending on what your current estate documents say.
4. Forgetting to update things
You need to re-examine your estate planning documents (including things like your power of attorney, living will and who you've picked as guardian for the children) every few years. You also need to do it at major milestones and whenever there's been a significant event, like when a child is born or comes of age. Failing that, revisit everything at least every five years.
Family legal issues are often complicated affairs -- but they tend to go a lot easier when you plan ahead carefully.