Common estate planning mistakes: The seven deadly sins to avoid

Apr 05, 2023
Steer Clear of the 7 Deadly Sins in Estate Planning. Source: Getty

When it comes to estate planning, it’s crucial that the correct steps and decisions are made to ensure you and your family are well set up when the time comes – whether that be as a result of unfortunate circumstances such as sudden death or an acute incident such as a stroke or serious/debilitating illness such as dementia which may require you to consider out of home options like aged care.

There are a number of things to consider when estate planning and it is important to follow best practice guidelines when making decisions of this magnitude.

Given the important nature of estate planning decisions, it’s important to be aware of the common mistakes people make when organising their estate’s so that they can be avoided at all costs.

Estate planning guru, Brian Herd, proposes the the seven deadly sins of estate planning and what you can do to avoid them while ensuring you achieve the best possible outcome in the process.

“Seven features as a prominent number in the lexicon of life on earth. It generally gives a sense of completeness such as in a week or even an itch. Regrettably, it can be a dreaded number for the dead,” Herd says.

1. The Illusion and Delusion of Immortality

Apart from cats and Rastafarians, we will all, eventually, travel on our celestial transfer to another place. In fact, there are three things you can say about death – you never really know when it’s going to happen, it will happen and, having happened, it will never happen again. It doesn’t just befall other people.

2. Doing nothing

Doing nothing to confront it has its attractions – it’s easy to do and it’s cheap. The trouble is that too many of us concentrate on the price of doing something as opposed to the cost of doing nothing. In my many years of legal experience, the cost of doing nothing will always exceed the price of doing something. The problem is, also, most of us don’t know what the consequences of doing nothing are. I do, and the picture for your family is ugly. Even worse is the set and forget brigade. If you did your Will in 1962, it may not have stood the test of time unless you’ve stood still since then.

3. DIY

In raising the flag for the self-help movement and, in an effort to be cost effective and efficient, choosing to do your Will yourself is alluring. How hard can it be? Please understand that the law of Wills is strewn with legal technicalities and failing to comply with the technicalities will simply result in legal proceedings after you go to heaven. Trust me, lawyers have managed to keep their children in the style to which they’ve become accustomed on the backs of the ‘do it yourselves’.

4. Losing it

This has two aspects. First, if you have done a Will but don’t know where it is, you may as well assume you haven’t done a Will. Second, if you leave it too late, it may be too late. When I say too late, I don’t mean because you die. It’s because you may lose your capacity. If you lose your capacity you are not able to make a valid Will. Your chance has, as they say, passed.

5. Being creative

No doubt you have heard many stories about various ways people like to leave their last testament including writing it with a felt pen on their bedroom wall, texting themselves or creating a video for their last will.

Treating your Will as a work of art will result in it foundering on the rocks of legal technicalities. Such alternatives will not always be accepted as a valid Will unless a court says so. The consequence of that is, someone may have to bring your bedroom wall to a Court for it to determine whether it is indeed your last Will and testament. Your family will love you for that!

6. Thinking it’s simple

Just KISS it, so they say – Keep it simple stupid. A nice idea and aspiration but gone are the days when most of us died with a home and a passbook bank account. A ‘mum and dad’ Will – ‘I give everything to my spouse, and in the event of their demise, I give everything to my children’ can be the worst Will in the world. It’s not just the potential complex nature of your affairs (crypto anyone?) but even more so, your children.

7. Not caring about the legacy of relationships

A person once wrote in her Will, “To my sons I leave nothing, not even my respect”. Some people will want to use a Will as a statement of repressed opinions. Do they really understand the legacy a Will represents? It’s not just about who to give what to. The most profound impact of a Will (and particularly, no Will) is its effect on relationships within your family left here on earth. Even simple apparent oversights ignore this issue.

A person made a Will appointing her two children as executors but giving her entire estate to one of them to the exclusion of the other. Really? What were they thinking? Implosion was the inevitable consequence.

Does it all really matter?

In the end, does it all really matter? When you think about it, what is a Will? It’s a document that benefits other people. How does it benefit you? Why do one? I asked that question once to an audience. A woman put up her hand and answered, “Because it makes me feel better”. I like that. Treat a Will like a health kick – it could just make you feel better.

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your financial or legal situation, objectives or needs. That means it’s not financial product or legal advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a financial or legal decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get independent, licensed financial services or legal advice.

Leave your comment

Please sign in to post a comment.
Retrieving conversation…
Stories that matter
Emails delivered daily
Sign up