Top 5 Mistakes People Make In their Wills

If you’re the average person living your life, and you’re one of the slightly less than 50% of the adult population who decides to actually write a will, for real, this time, then there’s a good chance you will make one of the following mistakes.  So to help you do the best job you can do with this important task (how important?  Just ask someone who had a parent or spouse die without a will) we’ve compiled the most common mistakes people make when writing their wills.

  1. Not finishing.  You’d be surprised how many people try to DIY their will but never actually finish signing them.  You have to sign in a very specific way, which varies depending on which state you live in but always involves some combination of you, witnesses, and a notary public.  Usually all these people have to be present at the same time and sign together, which makes it easy to put off and a lot of people never get around to it.  A will without the proper signatures is not a will. 
  2. Not updating.  A will should be reviewed and updated as your life changes.  Sometimes the problem is that what you own has changed significantly and the way you distributed it no longer makes the best sense.  More often, people you named as executor or other fiduciaries have died, become unreliable, or moved far away and can no longer serve. 
  3. Thinking that a will is all you need.  Not all of your property is disposed of by your will – if you have life insurance, or retirement accounts, and sometimes even your investment or ordinary bank accounts, have beneficiary designations.  This means that when you open the account, you are asked who you want to get the account at your death.  Anything you own that has a beneficiary designation will not be affected by your will.  This means you have to think about everything together and review (and change if needed) the beneficiary designations you have made at the same time you are preparing your will.  If you intend to give everything to your friend Bob, but you forgot that you named your friend Fred on your retirement account, then your intent will not be carried out. Also, there are other useful documents you may need to prepare in addition to a will, even though we tend to think about “writing a will” rather than “writing a HIPAA release,” there are a number of documents that typically are prepared when someone sits down to “do their will.”  These include a power of attorney, a medical power of attorney, a HIPAA release (that lets the people you name have access to otherwise private medical information), and a few others.  These documents will be needed in the event you become incapacitated, either temporarily or permanently.  If you are in a serious accident and spend months in a hospital or rehabilitation center, you will need other people to help handle your finances, your insurance claims, and other similar things, which they will not be able to do easily unless you have prepared these additional documents.
  4. Not letting people know about your will.  Once you have a will, and, hopefully, your other documents (see #3), you need to make sure people know they exist and where to find them when needed. 
  5. Thinking you can do it all yourself.  I know, this one sounds very self-important, but a lawyer really is useful when you want to write a will. If you want to make sure you do what you intend to do, hiring a lawyer is definitely the way to go.

Parker Counsel Legal Services consults with special needs families in Austin Texas, Dallas Texas, Western Mass, the New Hampshire Seacoast, and Northern New Jersey. Special needs trusts, guardianship, and more. Give us a call and tell us about your family situation for some guidance on how best to plan a safe, secure future for your child. 833-RED-BOOT (833-733-2668)