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Neglecting Your Estate Plan

Risk of Neglecting Your Estate Plan

The information in this column is not intended as legal advice but to provide a general understanding of the law.  Any readers with a legal problem, including those whose questions are addressed here, should consult an attorney for advice on their particular circumstances.

Life is unpredictable and certain events can have a significant impact on your estate plan. It’s a misconception that once you’ve created your estate plan, you can just forget about it. It’s important to consider how common life changes can affect your existing estate plan.

Birth of a Child or Grandchild

Many parents create their estate plan after their first child is born. But if their plan only includes their first child, the second child might not get their fair share without going to court. That’s why it’s important for parents to update their estate plan after each subsequent child is born.

Similarly, if a grandchild is not included in the grandparents’ estate plan, they may not be able to receive any of the benefits or opportunities that the grandparents wanted them to have. This could happen because of the family’s structure or how the estate plan was written.

Death of a Family Member

When creating a will or trust, different people play different roles: the person making the document (Testator for a will or Settlor for a trust), the people who will receive something from it (beneficiaries), and the people responsible for making sure the instructions are followed (executor in a will, trustee in a trust).

If any of these people pass away, it can impact the estate plan. For example, if a beneficiary dies, their share may go to someone else or their own descendants. It’s important to review your estate plan to ensure your wishes are still carried out.

It is also important to have backup people in place in case the person you named as the personal representative, executor, or successor trustee is unable to carry out their duties (even if it’s due to passing away before you). If you didn’t name any backups, then your loved ones may have to choose someone to take over, or a judge may have to decide who should be appointed. This could be especially difficult for families who tend to have conflicts.

Purchasing a New Home

If you have a trust-based estate plan, it’s important to make sure that all of your property and accounts are owned by the trust or named as a beneficiary. When you buy a new home, you need to remember to transfer it into the trust to avoid probate.

When you buy real estate, the title company may assume that you are buying it as an individual or as a married couple, so you need to tell them that you want to buy it in the trust’s name. If you forget to do this, you will need to contact your estate planning attorney to transfer the property into the trust after a successful transaction.

If you don’t put your property into your trust, then after you pass away, it will either go to the person who co-owns it with you (if you co-own it in a certain way), or it will have to go through a court process called probate if you owned it individually or as a tenant-in-common. It’s another Risk of Neglecting Your Estate Plan.

Marriage or Divorce

Getting married is an exciting time, but it can also be complicated, especially when it comes to money and property. You and your spouse may own separate property, as well as property that you accumulate together during your marriage. To avoid confusion and ensure that your wishes are carried out, it’s important to have an estate plan that outlines what property is separate and what is joint, what you want to leave to your spouse, and who should make decisions for you if you are unable to do so. If you don’t update your estate plan after getting married, a court may have to get involved to determine how your property should be distributed and who should make decisions for you.

If you get divorced, though, your wishes may change. To avoid any confusion, it’s important to update your estate planning documents after your divorce is finalized. This will ensure that your former spouse is not involved in your estate plan, even if they were previously named as a decision maker or beneficiary. It’s best to work with an estate planning attorney to update your documents and choose new decision makers and beneficiaries.

Don’t Risk of Neglecting Your Estate Plan

An estate planning attorney can review any estate planning documents you have, whether from years ago or a prior marriage, including Wills, trusts, powers of attorney and beneficiary designations, and then help you create new documents for your current situation.


Sam A. Moak is an attorney with the Huntsville law firm of Moak & Moak, P.C.  He is licensed to practice in all fields of law by the Supreme Court of Texas, is a Member of the State Bar College, and is a member of the Real Estate, Probate and Trust Law Section of the State Bar of Texas.

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