Assumptions in Estate Planning

by J.C. Bailey

“The trouble with people is not that they don’t know, but that they know so much that ain’t so.” – Josh Billings

Most of us have heard what we do when we assume. If you don’t know, then just understand that what “assume” makes out of “u” and “me” is not a compliment. Over the years, I have engaged in countless assumptions and have survived most of them. Some false assumptions are cured by education or experience, and you can adjust your understanding quietly and anonymously. Some assumptions are costly (investment decisions) and some are fatal (assuming the power has been turned off prior to an electrical repair).

The area of estate planning is fertile ground for making dangerous assumptions. Some of these false assumptions are merely inconvenient and some are disastrous:

  1. 1. “I took care of all this years ago” is usually wishful thinking, but rarely turns out to be true. A more accurate statement might be that you addressed some things years ago, and with the passing of time it is likely that other important things have been left undone.
  2. 2. The statement, “My spouse and I got a living trust and the whole shootin’ match in a leather binder” is commonly associated with a free steak dinner and a copy of “The Greatest Generation,” but it may not be what you need. It is possible that you got excellent advice, drafting and follow-up when you did your estate plan. It is more likely that not all the property that you intended to transfer into the trust was properly transferred, or that your circumstances and assets have changed since you did that planning. It is not the responsibility of the people who drafted your documents years ago to keep up with you or your evolving circumstances.
  3. 3. “I’ve already told everybody what I want done” is not a bad start, but you are not finished. In my profession, if it is not in writing, properly executed, witnessed and notarized, it may not matter what your wishes were. I can’t count the number of times that I was convinced that the wishes of a decedent were just as their loved one was communicating them, but those wishes could not be implemented without the right plan in the right language.

With experienced estate planning help available from Bailey & Galyen, you don’t have to assume anything — you can plan for the future with confidence.

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