Common Estate Planning Mistakes

Estate planning is preparing for what will happen to your assets after you have passed on and ensuring they will be passed on in accordance to your wishes. Whether your estate plan is simple or complex, many details can get overlooked and may undermine your plan’s effectiveness. The following is a list of the 10 most common estate planning mistakes to avoid:

1) Titling property jointly with your children as a substitute for a will. Unlike a will, a transfer of an interest in your property is irrevocable, which may prevent you from changing the disposition if circumstances change before your death. Also, titling your personal residence jointly can result in partial loss of the capital gain exclusion if it is sold before your death.  

2) Failing to plan for the possibility of children getting divorced or having problems with creditors. Parents often have cause to regret having made outright gifts to their child when the child subsequently divorces and the ex-son- or daughter-in-law is awarded an interest in the gifted property by a court, or when the property is taken pursuant to a legal judgment against the child. Such problems can be minimized through proper use of trusts or a business entity, such as an LLC.  

3) Failing to account for all assets with designated beneficiaries when reviewing a will. Many types of assets (life insurance, IRAs, brokerage accounts) can pass to your heirs or others based on beneficiary designations. The provisions of your will cannot change a beneficiary designation. Remember to account for things you’ve already designated. You should review your will, as well as all beneficiary designations, when formulating your estate plan. TIP: have a list ready of all of your accounts and beneficiaries listed when speaking to an attorney about a will. 

4) Underestimating the true value of your estate for Federal estate tax purposes. For instance, many people are unaware that the proceeds of life insurance on their lives are includable in their taxable estates if they own the policy. This could bring the total value of their estates to more than the amount sheltered from estate tax by the estate tax exemption—$11.58 million per person in 2020 (doubles if married), which is annually adjusted for inflation.

5) Failing to consider state death taxes in light of recent changes in the law. Many states have “decoupled” their death tax from the Federal estate tax, which means your estate could be subject to death tax in a state even if no Federal estate tax is due. This could result in an unpleasant surprise at your death, one that might be avoidable with proper planning. The laws of each state where you own property should be carefully reviewed to determine the potential exposure to state death taxes and how to minimize them.  

6) Being uninformed about recent legislation affecting the gift tax and estate tax amounts. In  2013, the American Taxpayer Relief Act (ATRA) provided a 40% tax rate and a unified estate and gift tax exemption of $5.34 million per individual and $10.68 million per married couple (adjusted annually for inflation). However, in 2020, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act nearly doubled the exemption amount. You can make yearly gifts up to the annual exclusion amount ($15,000 per person for gifts made by an individual and $30,000 for those made jointly by husband and wife) that don’t count against your $11.58 million estate and gift tax exemption. 

7) Failing to maximize the benefits of the income tax basis “step-up” at death. Low-basis/high-value assets should generally not be given away during your lifetime, since the basis for capital gain computation purposes will be increased to fair market value at death. If the asset is given away, the basis remains at the property’s original cost.  

8) Failing to indicate your desired funeral arrangements. A prearranged funeral can greatly relieve family members from additional stress after your death.  

9) Failing to plan for disability. In the absence of adequate medical care directives, powers of attorney, or trusteeship of assets, costly and time-consuming court proceedings may be required in order to appoint a guardian or conservator to act on your behalf if you become disabled.  

10) Not reviewing and updating your estate plan on a regular basis. Changes in the law and in your personal finances and family situation over time make it essential that you periodically review your estate plan to make sure it still carries out your wishes.  


We, NEST Financial, guide individuals and families through early and thorough planning to help them avoid common mistakes like ones mentioned, meet their financial goals, and leave a lasting legacy for their loved ones. 

Disclosure: The information provided is not intended as legal or tax advice and should be consulted with a tax advisor or attorney before applying any changes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *