Failure to plan or ignoring key details can create increased costs and problems when it comes to estate planning. Some of these solutions are very simple—and all too often overlooked. Kiplinger’s offers some really good basic pointers in the article, “5 Simple Steps to Decrease Your Estate Costs.” Check with your estate planning attorney to make sure that you’ve got these bases covered.
- Update your beneficiaries. When you pass away, some of your estate may not pass by your will because retirement plans, life insurance and transfer on death (TOD) accounts go directly to your beneficiary. For example, if you name your sister as the TOD beneficiary of your bank account, she needs to only give the bank a copy of your death certificate for the funds to be transferred without probate. It’s the same for your IRA or life insurance policy.
- Cash in any physical bonds and stock certificates. Physical securities and government bonds are all too often lost or forgotten—they can be left to mature without paying any more income. With a stock certificate, the stock may have split or paid dividends that weren’t collected properly. Unfortunately, these assets can appear after probate has been settled, which can result in the estate being reopened. Turn in stock certificates and keep them in electronic format.
- Review property deeds. If you just had your estate planning attorney draft a trust without changing the deed to your real estate to reflect ownership by that trust, most states would not let the real estate pass through your trust. Instead, it will pass through your will and probate when you die. The results of this can be pricey. A trustee can list the house for sale within hours of your passing, but an executor of your will must first collect documents and procure family signatures to begin the probate process, then apply to the court and—in some states—even get court permission to sell the house. You'll have wasted thousands of dollars paying for real estate taxes, utilities and other carrying costs.
- Consolidate your accounts. Too many accounts mean more work and more expenses. Consider keeping fewer, larger accounts. Leaving a distant nephew $500 in your will may cost you more than that to deliver it to him. Keep just a few, larger bequests in your will and use TOD accounts for smaller bequests.
- Track family members. Most states require a listing of heirs under a will even if there are certain family members who are not receiving anything. For example, a widow who has no children and whose siblings are all deceased but has twenty nieces and nephews living across the country will give her executor a huge task if she does not provide the names and current addresses in her will. If any property needs to be distributed under probate, the cost to locate all of these people could take a significant bite from—if not completely consume—her estate.
Clients that elect to participate in our Continuous Care Maintenance Program are eligible for document updates and financial reviews, which will help themselves and their loved ones avoid these loose ends. If you have any questions about your current estate plan, or would like to create an estate plan, please call our office today, (413) 527-0517.
Reference: Kiplinger (July 2016) “5 Simple Steps to Decrease Your Estate Costs”