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Three estate planning mistakes Hudson County residents must avoid

What's the harm if there is a small mistake in your estate planning documents? People are smart - they will figure out what you meant, right?

Not so fast. Although Hudson County readers can deal with small mistakes in plenty of areas of life, estate planning is not one of them. When evaluating a document like a will, courts strictly interpret the words as they are (because, simply put, you're not there to correct anyone). That means even a small mistake could result in some serious unintended consequences. Here are three mistakes that may not seem like a big deal, but have the potential to cause a lot of aggravation:

Ambiguous beneficiary: Leaving something "to my daughter" is not a good idea. Maybe you only had one daughter when you chose that phrase for naming your beneficiary, but what if you had another daughter afterwards and then forgot to update your beneficiary designation? You'd put both of your daughters through the hassle of going to court to find out what you meant. It's far easier to say "to my daughter, Jane Q. Public" at the start so there is no confusion.

Unclear references to assets: When you are making a bequest, make sure it is absolutely clear what you are bequeathing. Saying "the balance of my savings account" will not work if you have more than one and it is not clear which one you mean. Think about it -- what if you opened a savings account when you were 12 years old so you could deposit your lawn-mowing money and then completely forgot all about it? It's still there and still in your name and would once again create real problems that could have easily been avoided.

Having more than one will: If you die with more than one will, courts will generally take your most recent will. The thinking is that your most current will is the one that reflects your most recent wishes. Then again, if your will is not properly drafted, it may not be easy to tell which came first. Also, having more than one will makes it easier to argue that your newest will was produced when you were under duress or undue influence.

These are just three common mistakes that snarl up estate administration far too often. Working with a qualified attorney likely will reduce the possibility that any of this will happen to you.

Source: The Business Review, "10 Tips: Avoiding common estate planning mistakes," Barbara Pickney, April 10, 2012

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