Four Provisions People Often 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 a will or estate plan that can have a big impact on a family.

1) Alternate Beneficiaries and Executors

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 is unable 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. Also, be sure to name a primary Executor and at least one back-up Executor in case your primary is unable to serve for any reason.

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 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, including Virginia, if the document is referenced in the will, and is signed and dated by the person making the will, it is legally binding (See Va. Code Section 64.2-400). Even if the document is not legally binding, it is helpful to leave instructions for your heirs to avoid confusion and bickering. Do not, however, use the memorandum to make gifts of specific dollar amounts or of intangible property (e.g., bank or investment accounts) or real estate. Instead, those should be spelled out in the will itself.

3) Digital Assets

More and more, we are conducting business online, but 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 your online accounts, including e-mail, financial accounts, social media accounts, and anywhere else you conduct business online. Include your username and password for each account, as well as 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 by including specific provisions in those documents authorizing such access. Be sure to let your agent and personal representative know where they can find the list.

4) Pets

Pets 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, including Virginia (See Va. Code Section 64.2-726), 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 arise. It would also be worthwhile to create a memorandum providing details to the designated caretaker concerning your pet’s special needs, health conditions, habits, and idiosyncrasies. Of course, you should not name anyone as a potential caretaker unless you have first asked if he or she would be willing to serve.

Contact your attorney to make sure your will and estate plan takes care of all your needs.

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