Four Provisions People Forget to Include in Their Estate Plan

Even if you’ve created an estate plan, are you sure you included everything you need to? There are certain provisions that people often forget to put in in a will or estate plan that can have a big impact on your family.

1. Alternate Beneficiaries

One of the most important things your estate plan should include is at least one alternative beneficiary in case the named beneficiary does not outlive you or is unable to claim under the will. If a will names a beneficiary who isn’t able to take possession of the property, your assets may pass as though you didn’t have a will at all. This means state law will determine who gets your property, not you. By providing an alternative beneficiary, you can make sure that the property goes where you want it to go.

It’s also a good idea to name a “remote contingent beneficiary.”  A remote contingent beneficiary is the persons or organizations you designate to receive your assets if all of the beneficiaries named in your will or trust do not survive you.  Though in most cases that won’t happen, it is not a total impossibility.  By naming remote contingent beneficiaries to take in the event none of the other named beneficiaries survive you, you can choose which persons or organizations receive your assets rather than the assets going to remote relatives you never knew existed, or worse, going to the state where you live at the time of your death.

When naming alternate beneficiaries, be sure to take into account the alternate beneficiary’s age and condition, so that protective trusts can be used for minor children or grandchildren, or those with any form of incapacity.

2. Personal Possessions and Family Heirlooms

Not all heirlooms are worth a lot of money, but they may contain sentimental value. It is a good idea to be clear about which family members should get which items. You can write a list directly into your will, but this makes it difficult if you want to add items or delete items. A personal property memorandum is a separate document that details which friends and family members get what personal property. In some states, if the document is referenced in the will, it is legally binding. Even if the document is not legally binding, it is helpful to leave instructions for your heirs to avoid confusion and bickering. Often, it is the tangible personal property items that causes the greatest disagreements when an estate settles and is distributed to the beneficiaries.

3. Digital Assets

More and more we conduct business online. What happens to these online assets and accounts after you die? There are some steps you can take to help your family deal with your digital property. You should make a list of all of your online accounts, including e-mail, financial accounts, Facebook, Mint, and anywhere else you conduct business online. Include your username and password for each account.  Also, include access information for your digital devices, including smartphones and computers. And then you need to make sure the agent under your durable power of attorney and the personal representative named in your will have authority to deal with your online accounts.

Florida has specifically provided for access to digital assets by fiduciaries, including agents pursuant to a durable power of attorney, personal representatives of probate estates, and trustees of trust estates, in Chapter 740, Florida Statutes.

4. Pets

pet trusts, animal trusts, trust for pets, pet trust lawyerPets are beloved members of the family, but they can’t take care of themselves after you are gone. While you can’t leave property directly to a pet, you can name a caretaker in your will and leave that person money to care for the pet. Don’t forget to name an alternative beneficiary as well. If you want more security, in some states, you can set up a pet trust. With a pet trust, the trustee makes payments on a regular basis to your pet’s caregiver and pays for your pet’s needs as they come up.

We have a special interests in pets and pet trusts, and have provided continuing legal education programs to other Florida Bar members regarding the proper structuring of pet trusts.

Contact us to make sure your will, trust, or other estate planning takes care of all your needs, and your pets.

Randy Coleman