How To Tell If Your Estate Plan Is A Mess?

There's more to estate planning than just assembling a will, appointing an executor, and naming beneficiaries. For an estate plan to be effective, it has to be sensible. Otherwise, you may create a legal mess that takes years to sort out and creates problems for the people it's supposed to benefit.

How do you tell if your estate plan is a mess, though? Look for these four problems.

Lack of Legal Support

It's tempting to think you can just write a will or download one from a website. That's a bad idea. Hire an estate planning attorney, meet with them, and let them convert your wishes into meaningful legal language.


If it has been more than a couple of years since an estate planning lawyer reviewed your will, it's probably out of date. Every legislative session in your state may bring new laws, and federal rules will change with each new tax law.

Likewise, your life is going to change, and that may shift what your assets look like. Similarly, your family might have welcomed new beneficiaries or lost someone. Whenever there are changes, the estate plan becomes out-of-date. If you let it go long enough, it will create more trouble than it solves.

Fails to Use All Relevant Options

People frequently assume estate planning predominantly means leaving a will. That may work under some circumstances, but it almost certainly means the plan fails to use all relevant options.

Suppose you want to make sure the money from your brokerage account ends up in the hands of your spouse. Rather than incorporating the account into your will, you may be able to name your spouse as a beneficiary with a payable-on-death document. This is a form that states that a person will receive the proceeds of the account after they present a valid death certificate. It's nearly certain to be a simpler way to give them the money than putting it in your will.

Another valuable tool is a trust. Suppose you have a grandchild who needs medical care. You've been helping pay the bills because the parents have been swamped. What happens if you pass? It may take months to sort out the estate. By establishing a trust, you can make those funds immediately available upon your passing.

Ambiguous Language

The language of your estate's documents needs to leave no question about your intent. Have an estate planning lawyer review your will to verify the names are correct. Likewise, make sure all transferable assets are individually tied to named beneficiaries.