Oft-overlooked provisions essential for estate plans

Like many other seniors, you might feel confident in the estate plan you have in place. But you still should run it by an attorney to make sure it’s not missing anything important. That’s because there are a number of provisions that should go in a will or estate plan that frequently get left out, often to the detriment of heirs and beneficiaries.

For example, many people overlook family heirlooms and personal possessions, which can set the stage for ugly family fights later on. By being explicit about who should get what items, you can help avoid conflict. In some states this can be accomplished with a “personal property memorandum” that’s referenced in the will and lays out all the details. This is often easier than putting all the details in the will itself, because you can more easily edit a personal property memorandum, and courts in many states will honor it as long as it’s signed and dated.

Another important thing to account for is digital assets such as email accounts, financial accounts and social media accounts. If you want your family to be able to deal with your digital property according to your wishes, you should make a list of all such accounts as well as usernames and passwords, and include provisions in your estate documents enabling your personal representative or estate administrator to access them.

People also often neglect to provide for pets in their wills or estate plans. Pets generally cannot directly inherit property, but an owner can designate a caretaker and leave assets for a pet’s care. Some states even allow for pet trusts, where you can appoint a trustee to make periodic payments to the designated caregiver to meet the pet’s needs.

Finally, it’s critical to name an alternate beneficiary to receive your property if the named beneficiary doesn’t outlive you. Otherwise your property will pass to whomever is entitled to it under state “intestacy” laws (in other words, state laws that dictate who gets property when there’s no will). Similarly, you should name a back-up executor for your estate in case the person you selected first is unable to serve in that role.

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