|You can accidentally disinherit your heirs
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Here's an example: The deceased husband's will specified that one of his two children is to receive $100,000 more than the other child because the other child previously received a similar amount for educational expenses. This was his way of evening things out. But if the wife does not change her mirror-image will, when she dies, that child will receive a $100,000 grant from each parent, or double what their parents intended.
7. Disinheritance by failure to prepare a will
Though it was certainly not their intent, at least some of the 3,000 victims of the Sept .11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center towers may have accidentally disinherited loved ones, either because they had not yet prepared wills or their wills were outdated. Most of those who died were males between the ages of 35 and 39.
Grossman says having a will is not always about the money. "There are non-financial things that actually are more important, such as naming a guardian for your children," she says. "Giving someone a durable power of attorney for healthcare decisions is another big one."
Staring down the reaper
Let's face it, no one likes to draft a will. It's way too close to the gaping maw of the unknown. It is often as uncomfortable for parents to talk openly about their last wishes with their children as it is for their children to broach the subject with their parents.
"It's a terribly painful area because you're fighting people's instincts. They don't want to think about the inevitable, and so they don't," says Adams. "If they would have brought (the will) to our attention the day before someone passed, we could have solved hundreds of thousands of dollars going to the wrong places. Beyond that, there's not much chance of saying Dad didn't understand what he was doing -- hey, he wrote a will."
Setzfand says overcoming that nervousness is precisely what we need to do if we hope to avoid accidental disinheritance.
"The best approach is to have conversations well in advance of these uncomfortable situations," she says. "One should put in place things like powers of attorney well before they need to. The sooner that you do these estate planning tasks, the better it is. Then, once you have them in place, go back maybe annually or every five years and review the process you've put in place. The sooner you do it, the easier it is.
"Put the trains on the tracks and then you just grease the wheels every so often."