Estate planning is fraught with myths.
What people believe influences what they do. For example, children who think monsters are under their beds tend to avoid their rooms at night.
When doctors believe their patients have specific ailments, they order certain tests.
If people believe integrity is important, they will not speed on a road simply because nobody else is around.
According to a recent Insurance News Net article titled “Debunking the Top 10 estate planning myths,” those who believe false information about estate planning will not take steps to protect their family and prepare for the future.
What are some of the most common myths around estate planning?
Estate planning is for the wealthy.
While the wealthy benefit from estate planning, they do not have an exclusive right to prepare for the future or protect their loved ones.
Incapacity planning is a vital component of comprehensive estate planning.
It allows you to address how you would like to manage financial, healthcare, and legal matters if you cannot do so.
You can also identify the medical interventions and end-of-life care you would like to receive (or not).
Indicating these can remove a significant emotional burden from your loved ones.
For those with young children, the last will is essential to addressing who will care for the minor children should something tragic happen to both parents.
Probate is avoided with a last will.
This myth is simply false.
The probate courts have been established to review any last will presented for validity and to oversee the estate administration by the executors.
Alternative methods must be used to avoid probate altogether.
A trust is required to avoid probate.
Although a “fully funded” trust bypasses probate, it is not the only way.
Retitling assets can be an option for some individuals.
One option is to title assets as joint tenants with rights of survivorship.
However, this can be a risky move, as noted below.
States have varying rules governing transfer-on-death arrangements.
Assets like annuities, 401(k)s, IRAs, and other financial accounts pass through beneficiary designations.
Some people also choose to gift their wealth while they are still alive.
This is aptly known as giving with warm hands.
Adding an adult child to your home as a joint tenant with rights of survivorship.
This could fall under the myths category.
On the surface, it is appealing in its simplicity.
If your adult child survives you, the home is inherited without probate.
Not so fast.
It also opens you to risks and complications.
By making your adult child an equal owner of your home, you will require permission from the child and spouse of your child to sell your own home.
What if your adult child has creditors or that in-law is soon-to-be an ex-in-law?
What if your adult child declares bankruptcy?
Half of your home could become subject to such problems and become your problems.
A last will designates who will inherit an IRA.
Like life insurance and other retirement accounts, an IRA has beneficiary designations.
The beneficiary designations supersede any distributions provided in a last will.
Additionally, a last will does not control the distribution of annuities, transfer on death accounts, and payable on death accounts unless the last will or estate is the beneficiary.
Review these forms regularly to ensure the people listed are still those you would like to inherit.
A last will is unnecessary if my beneficiary forms are correct.
While it is certainly laudable to have beneficiary designations in order, complications may still arise without a last will.
Consider what would happen if your named beneficiary died at the same time as you or preceded you in death.
Additionally, some circumstances are not easily addressed in beneficiary designations and require a last will instead.
These include having minor heirs who cannot inherit directly, multiple heirs who must make decisions together about real estate, and adult children with debt.
Payment of final expenses is also better addressed in a last will.
A revocable living trust will protect assets while I receive nursing home care.
Of these common myths, this one could get you and your loved ones in legal and financial trouble.
Medicaid planning requires assets to no longer be under the control of the grantor.
Assets held in a revocable living trust are considered “countable” assets when determining Medicaid eligibility.
Trusts avoid probate.
Although the assets held in a trust bypass probate, it only works for the assets titled to the trust while living or to the trust by beneficiary designation at death.
If the trust is not funded during life or death, then assets will be subject to probate absent other non-probate transfer arrangements.
If a last will, “per stirpes,” grandchildren will inherit assets if adult children die first.
The grandchildren will only inherit if the adult child precedes the grandparents in death.
A better option would be to create a “bloodline” trust to ensure your grandchildren will inherit.
Only a will and a trust are needed for an estate plan.
Believing this myth leads many people to avoid important estate planning.
Critical components of a comprehensive estate plan include an advance health care directive, HIPAA authorization, and general durable power of attorney for incapacity planning.
By busting these common myths, you will be better equipped to protect everyone you love and everything you have.
Reference: Insurance News Net (March 15, 2023) “Debunking the Top 10 estate planning myths”