Monday, January 30, 2012

The 50 Biggest Estate Planning Mistakes

I’m expecting to be named as executor of a couple of estates and will likely help out in others. So, I was interested to read The 50 Biggest Estate Planning Mistakes ... and How to Avoid Them by Jean Blacklock and Sarah Kruger. In addition to mistakes in planning an estate, the authors cover mistakes in serving as an executor and in being a beneficiary. Although the book is framed as a list of common mistakes, it serves as a how-to guide and provides some entertainment value with numerous anecdotes.

My main criticism of this book is that it comes on a little strong in promoting the services of trust companies and various other experts that may be needed in preparing a will or settling an estate. I don’t doubt that these experts are sorely needed in many cases, particularly for larger estates, but this theme is overdone in the book.

The strength of this book is the experience it draws from. Reading through the various mistakes people make I realized that I could make many of these same mistakes myself. Although this may not be the most fascinating subject in the world, the anecdotes kept me reading and picking up useful advice.

Here are a few interesting parts:

Dying with dignity

“Phrases such as ‘heroic measures’, ‘dying with dignity’ and even ‘life support’ have little or no meaning in the medical community.” It is better to think of your wishes in terms of quality of life. The important thing about a medical intervention is whether there is “a reasonable opportunity to recover and enjoy more time, with a good quality of life.”

Naming executors

It is tempting to demonstrate equal love for all your children by naming them all as executors, but this often causes problems. For one, “the law requires that executors must act unanimously.” It is tempting to think “when I’m gone, they will work it out,” but what usually happens after the parent passes away “is that the gloves really come off.”

Communicating your wishes

“It sure is a mistake to think that people can read our minds. They can’t – and their skill at it doesn’t improve after we are dead.” It’s better to get everyone together and explain what you want than to incorrectly assume that they know. This is doubly important if there is anything about your will that could be interpreted as favouring one loved one over another, even if you think there is a good reason for your decision.

Changing the locks

An item on an executor’s checklist that wouldn’t have occurred to me is to quickly change the locks on the house. Even if you trust family members to not take things because “that’s what Mom would have wanted,” maybe neighbours with emergency keys would fail a temptation test.

Executors’ openness with the progress of the estate

Handling an estate takes longer than it seems it should. This can create bad feelings between siblings when one is the executor and the other is impatiently waiting for the estate to be settled. Providing updates on progress can smooth out potential troubles.


  1. This seems like a very useful book. Unfortunately, when someone dies, you often see the really nasty side of people...

    Also, I would have never thought about the key thing.

  2. @Lyne: If you liked the few tidbits I pulled out of the book, no doubt it would make a good read for you. I haven't seen too much of the nasty side of people when someone dies, but I've certainly heard plenty of people grumble about how they thought the estate was bigger and that their share would have been bigger.