Estate planning is one of the most important things that an individual will do in his or her lifetime. Every individual needs an estate plan, regardless of his or her age or circumstances. Because the need for an estate plan is so universal, there are many examples of estate planning gone wrong for others to learn from. A recent article discusses several common pitfalls to avoid.
First and foremost, do not prepare your own will. Despite how competent you may be, or how easy the Internet purports to make such tasks, you should employ a competent attorney to draft your will. Consider the fate of former chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court Warren Burger. Burger drafted his own will because he wanted to keep it short and simple. The result was $450,000 in unnecessary fees and taxes. An outside lawyer can bring in a fresh perspective on your family and situation. Importantly, things that are clear to you may be ripe for a court battle.
It is also important to consider your mental capacity. While you may be competent enough to cobble together a will, your competency when you prepare your will may be ripe for challenge after your death. Leona Helmsley drafted a will that left her dog $12 million. Her grandchildren challenged the will, claiming that Helmsley was not of sound mind when she drafted the will. This argument got a court to change the will to provide the dog with just $2 million. In order to avoid challenges over your mental competency, have a professional conduct a capacity test before you complete your will.