Five Estate Planning Oversights

While you are busy navigating life’s inevitable changes —births, deaths, marriages, divorces, compensation adjustments, career moves, legislation updates, and more — updating your estate plan is probably the last thing on your mind. However, as a document customized to your personal preferences and tailored to your unique situation, it makes sense that it would need to be modified as your life situation and preferences change.

One of our relationship managers was reminded of this when his church received a large estate gift from a previous parishioner, “Ann.” Evidently, Ann had named the church a beneficiary in her will while she was still a member and had neglected to update it since. As a result, the church received a seven-figure gift from her estate — likely contrary to what Ann would have wanted had she been aware of this prior to her death.

Generally, we suggest you review estate planning documents at least every five years and on the occasion of a life event. Often, individuals forget to update beneficiaries after life changes. Even if they update their Last Will and Testament, a beneficiary form trumps the Last Will and Testaments in court. This means that sometimes when an IRA, 401(k), or an insurance policy is overlooked, a former spouse or a deceased loved one could be listed as a beneficiary.

If Ann had reviewed her Last Will and Testament and her beneficiary forms, she could have updated the gift recipients prior to her death – and avoided her estate supporting an organization of which she was no longer an active part.

Unfortunately, situations like Ann’s are all too common. In our work assisting clients with their estate plans, we see four additional common oversights:

Pausing in the Final Stretch

Estate planning can be exhausting. Logistically, it requires working with an estate planning attorney and your family to fill out lengthy documents, including a will, power of attorney, advanced medical directives, and beneficiary designations. On a philosophical level, it requires contemplation of your own mortality. Understandably, people often take a beat in the final stretch – pausing after completing the hard work of familial alignment and complex legal documents but before executing their documents or funding them. When you’ve worked steadily over a long period of time, the last 10% of your effort can feel strenuous. Taking a break makes sense but could prevent you – or your beneficiaries - from receiving the benefits of your hard work.

  • Executing Documents: Recently, we were opening a trust account for a client per his estate plan, and when we asked for the executed document, the client realized he had never signed and notarized it. We couldn’t open the account because, without execution, the document did not have legal power. Fortunately, the fix was simple. Our client quickly contacted his attorney and scheduled a time to execute the trust document,  and we opened the account without further issue.
  • Funding Entities: Funding an instrument such as a trust requires an extra step after execution – ensuring the appropriate assets are actually ‘owned’ by the entity. This could include going to a custodian, opening an account, and transferring assets into that account. Or, updating a deed for your house.  Unfortunately, if the trust is never funded, you will not benefit from the planning strategies of having the instrument in place.

Unaligned Asset Distribution

When reviewing estate planning documents with a couple at the head of a blended family, we discovered that their assets would have been distributed differently depending on which spouse passed away first – creating two scenarios, one of which did not align with their desires. This is not uncommon - with assets held individually and jointly, and instruments created at different times of one’s life. It is unlikely that distribution among your own estate planning documents, as well as those shared with a spouse, are aligned if you haven’t sat down to plot out the different distributions. We recommend doing so, especially because you might want to make provisions for special nuances specific to your family. Many families have unique components that add complexity such as a blended family, caring for a special needs loved one, or supporting aging parents. Understanding the flow of assets ensures that each of these situations is accounted for and addressed.

Uninformed Appointees

When appointing trustees, executors, co-executors, and guardians in your documents, have a conversation with the individual(s) you select and ensure they understand your intent and responsibilities associated with the appointment. When prior discussions do not occur, it leaves grieving loved ones in an uncomfortable position that could burden everyone.

Accommodating Changes in Legislation

Legislation can have an important impact on your finances. It’s important to not only understand changes in legislation but take action to update your documents as needed to reap the benefits. For example, on January 1, 2026, the lifetime estate and gift tax exemption will revert to pre-2017 levels, subjecting a broader swath of estates to taxes at death. If your taxable estate will exceed $6 million (or $13 million for joint estates), you might benefit from some updated estate planning and strategies before 2026. Much like trying to score a last-minute Mother’s Day Brunch reservation, scheduling time with an estate planning attorney may be difficult as we get closer to 2026, so getting a meeting on the books could be beneficial.

Next Steps

Estate planning can be challenging, and we hope that listing these five common oversights has helped you think through whether your estate plan matches your current intentions. If you have questions, please do not hesitate to reach out. Our relationship managers are trained to guide clients through estate planning as one of the elements of a robust financial plan.  To prepare you for the conversation, you can download our estate planning checklist.

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