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Considering Estate Planning? Six Mistakes To Avoid When Doing One

Ask anyone about estate planning and it is likely you will find a blank stare because no one wants to talk about the inevitable. Estate planning is something people would rather not think about until it becomes unavoidable. Even when people do plan for it, without the assistance of an estate planning attorney to act as a guide, the outcome often comes out as unsatisfactory as they were not able to get proper legal advice to minimize tax obligations and other stuff. Here are some tips your estate planning attorney recommend you avoid when considering estate planning.

Waiting Too Long

Don't wait too long to do your Estate PlanningYour estate planning attorney recommends that you do not wait too long to make one. If you become incapacitated because of illness, age, injury or disease, there is nothing worse than having one or all of your beneficiaries and heirs fight over your assets. When this happens, there is no recourse but the court to make important decisions that will determine who gets what. This is something you do not want to happen as the person that might get assigned may not have your best interests in mind. It is never too early to consult an estate planning attorney in order to start strategizing. Plans such as  how to avoid probate, create a legal will, draft a trust and name people you trust to take care of your personal affairs.

Not Updating Your Estate Plan

Sure you may have already drafted an estate plan but that was 15 years ago when you were single, had no kids and almost nothing to your name. While you did the right thing of prepping the legal documents for the inevitable, you did not update your estate planning attorneys about the changes in your life since you drafted the original document. You now currently have 4 kids, one ex-spouse and heart disease. What you should have done is to have your will updated to reflect your current circumstances. Make sure that your real estate property is titled to the trust and instructions are done in detail to ensure your kids are taken care of.

Did Not Consider Estate Tax

Ask any estate planning attorney about estate tax and they will tell you that your estate will not get taxed unless it is valued at $5.43 million for single individuals and $10.86 million for married couples. As you advance in your status in life more and more people achieve an estate value at this level so it is a must that you talk to your estate planning attorneys to have your estate appraised and if the value on the documents indeed higher or is growing at the moment, you might consider gifting some of it in order to reduce the estate value. For example, you can gift your heirs or beneficiaries up to $14000 annually and married couples can gift up to $26000 per year per person using funds coming from one partner’s property.

You Alone Know You have An Estate Plan

Can you think of the reaction your friend gets when they realize that you have designated them as legal guardian to take care of your minor children after you become incapacitated? Or, certain pieces of jewelry or important personal documents a close relative believed he would inherit but find out later was meant for somebody else. It is vital to let your legal heirs know what items you wish to give them so that any violent reactions and arguments may be discussed while you are still in control of your faculties. If you find that the person you designated as the legal guardian is not interested to take care of your kids or is incapable to do so then you can inform your estate planning attorney about naming someone else to carry the burden.

No Funding For Your Trust

Have your estate planning lawyer help you set up a trust fund for your estate planningMany estate planning attorneys has seen this situation: Setting up a trust is a good thing but now you need to fund that trust with some personal assets. Your estate planning attorney can advise you on what types of assets can be placed in it so you are able to avoid probate along with the cost and delay that comes with it.

Doing It DIY Style

Sure there are a lot of online help sources on estate planning available out there but there are so many horror stories of people that did estate planning on their own without the help or sound advice of an estate planning attorney. Your lawyer can do more than draft the document for you. He can help set up various trusts and also provide some advice on other trust instruments too. Your estate planning attorney can also give you advice on advanced health directives, having a pour-over provision in your personal will as well as counseling on how to efficiently fund and administer the trust for the sake of your heirs and beneficiaries.

Emotional Blocks to Estate Planning

There are two things that are constant in this world – death and taxes. No one wants to talk about it. Because it is quite stressing. Are you afraid to talk about your will? Do you experience cold sweats thinking about how you will live in case your spouse dies? These are just some of the examples of emotional blocks to estate planning.

Overcoming the “D” Word

The first hurdle that you need to overcome is facing your very own mortality. A good estate planning lawyer will use different words to use as a euphemism for death then use it in order to make the client more at ease for the rest of the discussion. People will say anything except use the phrase: “When I die”. Unless you are already at ease about your own mortality, people are more likely to respond to different terms like: “kick the dust”, “six feet under”, “pass on” to name a few. There are also some people that are superstitious about death. They believe that making a will can bring their death sooner rather than later.

Loss of Control

Fear of losing control of one’s assets is another reason why people forego estate planning. What you need to keep in your mind is estate planning does not give your assets away, it protects it. A lot people know that they have to deal with a lot of taxes when they die but are afraid of transferring control of their assets to their kids. They probably have heard of too many horror stories about ungrateful children that threw away their inheritance and forgot all about their parents. Most people simply want it both ways meaning they want complete unfettered access on all their assets and they do not want to pay a single dime to the government. There are methods that allow transfers while at the same time retaining majority control, and there are also ways that estate planning can protect your money.

Working With An Estate Planning Lawyer

Some people also avoid estate planning for fear of having to deal with a lawyer. What they are most afraid of is having to pay an exorbitant amount in legal fees, or worse, the attorney is not going to follow their wishes and will just create a standard estate plan that does not cover all the details and wishes they want enforced. The answer to overcoming this fear of lawyers is to find the right lawyer for the task at hand. As such, a referral from a trusted colleague, friend or relative is often the best method. Ask your friends or family whom they recommend. Like many important decisions, do some research on your own. Have a sit-down with the lawyer and ask all the questions you like and if you don’t like what you hear, just walk away and find someone who will.

Expense To Preparing Estate Planning Documents

How much will it all cost? Will it take a huge chunk of what I want to give to my beneficiaries? Fear of expense is another reason why people forego estate planning. What you need to know is that estate planning is not really all about you. It is for the loved ones you leave behind when you’re gone. You yourself will not feel the weight of estate taxes but your beneficiaries will if you do not put things in motion in order to prevent that. Leaving a well thought out plan is the best gift you can give to the surviving members of your family. Arrange your affairs while you are still healthy and of sound mind and body. This will provide your family with the most good once you have passed on.

The Basics of Estate Planning

Estate planning is a complicated process about what happens to your assets at the time of your demise. Estate planning lawyers make sure they inform their clients about the basics of estate planning regardless if they already have or not an estate plan already. In most cases, a lot of clients still don't know or have an idea of what an estate plan is even if they already own one.

Role of Education

Education is vital to anyone interested in getting an estate plan. This takes the complicated process and breaks it down into much concise and easier to understand sections. Once you know one part, then you can proceed to the next until you have a good bearing about what the whole process is actually all about. You will then know that it is not merely a bunch of legal documents that you have to sign, but is really more of making an informed decision that will enforce your wishes, objectives, and final instructions in writing.

Purpose of Estate Planning

Estate planning is not about what happens to your assets after your death, it also about what happens to you and your property when you become mentally incapacitated. A lot of times mental disability planning is taboo and is not touched or discussed upon during the process of estate planning. However, any good lawyer will tell you that this is a mistake because we now are living longer but are not necessarily living healthy lifestyles. Since life can be unpredictable, it is more important to address the possibility of being incapacitated and should be part of planning for the future.


There are currently 4 kinds of taxes that will have a bearing on your estate:
  1. Estate taxes (including state estate taxes),
  2. Gift taxes,
  3. Generation skipping transfer taxes
  4. Income taxes
Knowing how all of these can affect your estate and the inheritance that your loved ones will receive is a vital part of the planning process.

Titling the Property

How your property is titled will ultimately dictate who will inherit after your death. Understanding the ownership of property is essential to good estate planning. The currrent owner will know who can inherit it after they are gone. For instance, in your will you leave everything equally to your siblings but all of your property is titled in joint names with your sister. In this case, all of the property will go to your sister after your death and absolutely nothing will be left to your brother.

Revocable Trust

Revocable trust in estate planningA revocable living trust is a kind of legal document that covers three phases of your life: what happens to you and your property while you are alive and healthy, if you become mentally incapacitated, and after your death. One of the reasons why people use a revocable trust as part of their estate plan is to avoid probate. It is also a powerful tool to keep your estate planning a private family matter.

Options for Paying Beneficiaries their Inheritance

Once there is a plan in place, you can now focus on who will inherit your assets and how they will inherit after your death. There are a lot of different ways by which you can pay your beneficiaries their inheritance. You can do it outright in one lump sum or in stages or phases; it may also be in lifetime discretionary trusts etcetera.

Estate Planning Documents

These are the necessary estate planning documents you will need:
  1. Last Will and Testament;
  2. Advance Health Care Directive;
  3. Living Will and;
  4. Power of Attorney.

Selecting An Estate Planning Lawyer

Estate planning is more than just how your assets will be distributed after you die. It is to ensure all your wishes and last instructions are followed following your death or if you become mentally incapacitated. Estate planning lawyers create the necessary legal documents in order to enforce your wishes protect your assets and ensure your beneficiaries’ interests are protected. Here are some tips on how you can select a good estate planning lawyer.

An Estate Planning Lawyer Who Focuses on Estate Planning

Get a specialized estate planning lawyerWhen it comes to the law, lawyers have different fields of specialization they choose to practice. Not all lawyers can do estate planning just the same as not all lawyers can defend a criminal in open court. If you want to ensure that every aspect of your will is followed and all methods are used to your legal advantage after your death, you will require the services of a lawyer specializing in estate planning. This is especially more true if you have a complicated will or if there is a feud in the family or you want to protect someone from outside influence.

Years on the Job

When it comes to the law, the more experienced the lawyer, the better regardless if the lawyer is a generalist law practitioner or someone that focuses entirely on estate planning. The more experience he has the better he can handle complex situations. The wills, trusts, and powers of attorney including healthcare documents used by many lawyers have been modified and revised to deal with everyday situations that their clients see. This will allow you to have peace of mind that the documents being prepared on your behalf will work when they are needed.

Help for Funding Assets into a Revocable Living Trust

A lot of seasoned estate planning lawyers create foolproof estate plans for their clients but fall short of assisting them with the next vital step: funding the revocable living trust. A well-worded trust is virtually useless once you die, if your assets are not titled in the name of the trust while you were still living. Some law firms hire full time funding assistants or even have funding departments, while others simply provide you with a list of written instructions to follow. Others merely mention the importance of funding but again fall short of providing guidance on how to go about it. It is vital that you seek an attorney that can oversee the entire funding process.

Formal Updating and Maintenance Programs

A lot of estate planning attorneys sees their work as a one-time transaction meaning they draft the documents requested by the client and they’re done. However, there are others who, for a nominal fee, will contact all of their clients on an annual or semi-annual basis in order to inform them of any changes to the law, offer new estate planning methods, inquire about life changes that may require modifications in the client’s documents. They can also check up on the progress of the client’s funding. Collaborating with a lawyer that offers a formal updating and maintenance program is highly recommended as this can ensure that the plan stays up-to-date and will work as intended when the time comes.

Flat Versus Hourly Fees

For the most part, estate planning lawyers charge a fixed fee for their services, if not, all of their services. This will allow you peace of mind to know that the flat fee is all you need to pay. You will need to understand though what, if any, the flat fee does not cover and when the attorney will charge for an additional flat fee or begin billing you on an hourly rate.

Feels Right

Regardless if the attorney has all of the above requirements but does not feel right in some way then it might be best to simply walk away and find someone that you think you can place your full trust on. Ask yourself if you see yourself working with this attorney? Do you feel at ease around him or her? Does he answer your questions in a professional manner? Even if he does, keep in mind that you will be sharing all of the intimate and personal details of your life with this person. If you do not feel comfortable for some reason, then walk away and find someone who does make you feel at ease about this part of your life.

Why You Need Estate Planning

Estate planning is the legal process by which a person’s assets or property will be managed and distributed in the event of the person’s demise. It also takes into consideration a person’s financial obligations in the event that he or she is no longer able to make personal or financial decisions. Assets that comprise an individual’s estate include cars, houses, and shares of stocks, pensions, life insurance and current debt. You can plan for the future with estate planning in order to preserve the wealth of your family, providing for a surviving spouse and kids, funding for kids education or leaving a legacy to a charitable institution. Here are some important reasons why you need to have estate planning now.

To Avoid Probate

This is by far the most common purpose why people seek out the services of an estate planning lawyer. While most have never even heard of probate, they know one thing that it should be avoided at all costs. This comes from horror stories told by other people, by the media or told by friends and business colleagues. The vast majority of people want to avoid a situation where a judge has to decide where their property or assets go in the event of their death.

Estate Planning Can Minimize Estate Taxes

Estate planning can lessen paying estate taxPeople simply do not want the government to get their money in the event of their death. Your government is paid in the form of federal estate taxes, state inheritance taxes and more. Through careful estate planning, married couples can reduce or even potentially remove estate taxes altogether. Your estate lawyer can help you set up AB Trusts or ABC Trusts as part of their will or a revocable living trust. Also, there is a good number of estate planning methods that your lawyer can help you with that are applicable for both married and single individuals so to help make inheritance tax bills less costly.

To Prevent a Mess

Many prospective clients seek the advice of an estate-planning attorney because they do not want a feud or confusion to happen on who gets what after they die. In order to protect beneficiaries from bad decision-making, outside influence, creditor issues and divorcing spouses. If the beneficiary of a will happens to be a minor, US states require a guardian or conservator to be appointed in order to supervise the needs and finances of the minor until he or she reaches the age of adulthood. You can prevent family issues, including expensive legal costs by taking some time to assign a guardian and trustee for all your minor beneficiaries. If the beneficiary is an adult, but terrible at managing his or her money, a good estate planning can protect the beneficiary from outside influence including his or her own bad decisions.

Welcome To the New Iowa Environmental Law Update

Welcome to the new Iowa Environmental Law Update! If you were a past reader of our blog we welcome you back to the new site. The ongoing mission of this website will be to keep legal professionals as well as the general public, up to date on the ongoing legal issues facing Iowa's environmental legacy. Clean air, water and soil are important to all Iowans, it's up to us all to be vigilant in the protection of these vital resources. Especially considering our economy's reliance on agriculture our failure to protect these resources would amount to an economic disaster. Although we already have fantastic government agencies such as Iowa Department Of Natural Resources and Iowa Department Of The EPA tackling environmental issues the state legal system plays an important part in balancing the needs for protecting the environment and the interests of cities and businesses.

We look forward to being a resources for all the residents of Iowa who are interested in the legal issues that we face in protecting our environment and balancing the needs of the people.

Our Authors

Real Specialist

At Iowa Environmental Law Update we specialize in many aspects of the law including Environmental, Estate Planning, Probate, Personal Injury, and many more legal niches.

We provide news, commentary, tips on finding the best lawyers and questions to ask. Even though most of our information is provided by people in the legal field, not all our lawyers. So please take the information on this site as informational and directional. For legal binding information you should always talk to a professional attorney.


Benson Protastin

Senior Writer

Benson has been practising law for over 30 years specialising in corporate law, real estate, and family law. A senior partner in a prestigious firm in South Dakota, Greg loves to help out his community as well by giving free legal services from time to time.


Gregory Fitzgerald


Gregory has always been fascinate with the law and how it can help a community. He took up an Associate Degree in Criminal Justice as his stepping stone into becoming a lawyer. Currently, Gregory is part of a legal aid team for his community.


Thomas Kennedy


Thomas Kennedy lives and practices law in Johnson County where he specializes in Civil Rights, Environmental, and Intellectual Property Law.