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The mistakes people make when they die

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Many people believe their estate plan will magically adjust to whatever changes take place.

I don't want to alarm you, but the death rate in the United States remains surprisingly high at 100%. I'm going to die. You're going to die. We are all going to die. It's a depressing thought, but it is a reality. We all know it is coming, so I'm going to share a few tips on how to get it right by pointing out some common mistakes.

The biggest mistake people make is that they fail to plan ahead. If you think about all of the things you plan for in your life, most of them have an element of uncertainty. However, you should know that death is certain. The only thing you don't know is when. If you don't want it to be a big mess for your family, YOU need to plan for your eventual death.

The second mistake people make is that they believe their estate plan magically adjusts for whatever changes take place between the time they put the plan in place, and when it will be used. Assuming that the estate plan you put in place 20 years ago, 10 years ago, or even three years ago, is still an effective plan for your death is a dangerous assumption. Your estate plan, like all the other things in your life, needs regular maintenance and adjustment to continue to work effectively.

The third mistake people make is that they focus on taxes as the main driving force for developing their plan. Avoiding sending your hard-earned money to a wasteful and ill managed government is definitely a strong motivating factor to undertake an effective estate plan. However, remember that the reason you don't want to send your money to the government is that you would rather have your family keep it. When you plan, you should focus on your family first, and then build the tax strategies around your family goals. Experienced advisors can generally help you accomplish both.

The fourth mistake people make is that don't recognize that they must undertake and fulfill certain commitments to have their estate plan effectively produce the results they desire. Clearly understanding the basic commitments needed to implement the planning you put in place is a critical part of the success of the plan. The disasters you hear about at the coffee shop following someone's death are most often about their failure to properly follow very basic steps, or commitments, during their lives.  It's generally not about the type of legal documentation they had put in place.

The fifth mistake people make is that they do not investigate and understand the various options that are available to their family. People tend to hear about a planning concept or tax strategy, (usually promoted by the advisor who is selling it) and rush out and buy it. Sadly, often there are other strategies available that would more effectively accomplish their overall goals. Duct tape works, but in many situations, it's not the best long-term solution to the problem. You should not cobble together an estate plan by buying the latest promoted strategy. Your estate plan should be a fully integrated plan taking advantage of the best available strategies to meet your goals and objectives. If the professional you are working with does not begin with focusing on your overall planning goals and instead tells you how the particular strategy works, they are a salesperson, not an advisor.

You are going to die! You have the option to help our family be prepared for your certain death. In an effort to help you understand the concept, I will share another alarming statistic with you. 100% of those individuals who did not plan in advance for their death, were unable to plan for their death after their death! Sorry to be the one to break the news, but if you procrastinate on this for too long, it's impossible to do it later.

Dolan, an attorney, helps farm and ranch families achieve comprehensive estate, succession, and legacy planning objectives. Dolan is the principal of Dolan & Associates, P.C. in Brighton and Westminster, Colo. Learn more on his website:

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