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Estate Botching
Earlier this month, Wayne Starr discussed how talking with your parents now about their estate can save you a lot of hassle in the future. This week, Larry Tolbert highlights pitfalls to avoid when devising a plan.


Gabriel Lefrancois, hitched
There are steps you can take to avoid the pitfalls of estate planning.


I read your article a few weeks back about the value of estate planning, any tips on what to look out for?

"You don’t learn nuthin’ the second time you’re kicked by a mule!" –Wisdom from a Depression-era survivor.

If our wise man above is correct, why do so many people pass along the disastrous effects of a botched estate plan for generations? The majority of individuals should carefully consider their estate planning needs. Unfortunately, they’re not.

Here are four common ways estate plans are botched:

"The No Plan" Plan: This is the most disastrous and avoidable mistake. No plan is a plan for disaster. Some people feel overwhelmed at the thought of estate planning. Some dread talking about their own mortality. Some feel that they are not wealthy or sophisticated enough to need additional attention.

But baby boomers are in possession of the greatest massed wealth in history—and most of you reading this are part of the echo-boom generation (baby boomer offspring). It’s amazing to see how many people do not think they are wealthy enough to need estate planning and fail to address their wealth and inheritance.

No plan users default to the IRS as their sole beneficiary, leaving other potential beneficiaries facing an expensive, protracted battle through probate court. That’s not the lasting legacy most want to leave.

"The Do-It-Yourself" Plan: The adage that "the lawyer that represents himself has a fool for a client," applies equally to estate planning. With the internet and the ever-present "you can do this" financial propaganda, anyone can gather raw data to attempt an estate plan.

However, any fees saved often come back at twice the level because of a poorly laid out estate plan. In many cases, the estate lands in probate, adding hours of attorney fees and mental anguish. Some common mistakes made in a DIY plan include poorly written, ambiguous documents, out-of-date documents, failure to consider changes in the beneficiary status, improper beneficiary designations and improperly executed power of attorney documents.

"The Unfunded Plan" Plan: This phenomenon occurs when one has executed a well-crafted estate plan, but doesn’t transfer their assets into it (also known as funding the plan).

Most attorneys fail to fully assist individuals with this. At best, the attorney gives the client a list of funding chores that leaves the client bogged down in confusing paperwork.

"The Oops, I forgot the IRA Plan:" Retirement plans, such as traditional IRAs and 401(k) plans are covered by a body of law known as ERISA. These are among the few assets that have a named beneficiary, thus avoiding probate.

However, individuals consistently fail to plan for the combined effect of estate and income tax that awaits the unsuspecting beneficiary. Joint taxes alone may cause the beneficiary of your IRA to lose more than 70 percent of its value to taxes. Stretching an IRA can turn your retirement asset into a family dynasty if handled properly.

The solutions to these problems are plentiful, but the easiest and most efficient answer is to find a trusted, experienced and effective estate planner as soon as possible. The benefits of hiring a top-notch person far outweigh the costs and hassles caused by not doing so.

Larry J. Tolbert is Regional Vice President of Householder Group, one of the nation's largest independent financial planning firms. Larry specializes in developing and implementing retirement and estate plans for private clients. Larry works in the Memphis, TN, office and may be reached at ltolbert@thgaz.com or 901-202-3909.

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