Everybody wants to save a buck. Who doesn't? Even though smart people really know that hiring an experienced estate planning attorney certainly is a better choice, there are plenty of form wills and estate planning documents out there in our Internet world that can be used. They may get the job done, and using something like this is certainly better than doing nothing, yet if you do go this route, beware of mistakes people commonly make when preparing their own wills

1. Including end of life or funeral preferences in your will.

Does the will drafter wish to be buried or cremated after they die? Sadly, some individuals end up with an open casket at a funeral, only to have their will later reviewed where it explicitly indicated a preference for cremation.

2. Leaving assets to a pet.

Under Michigan law, a pet cannot receive an inheritance. If that's your wish, leave your "pet money" to an individual, and direct that individual to care for your pet for as long as it is alive. And, by the way, make sure that individual has agreed to carry out your wishes.

3. Attempting to disinherit an heir by omitting any mention of him/her in the will.

If you have a natural descendant, such as one of your children that you don't want to receive any of your estate after your death, make sure to mention him/her and at least some general reasons why you wish to disinherit them. 

4. Setting conditions for inheritance.

For example, only if my child graduates from college, stays sober, stops using marijuana, etc. That's a provision that is extremely difficult to enforce, can delay the probating of your estate and create excessive expenses for your personal representative to follow.

5. Leaving significant asssets directly to minors.

This will cause a conservator to have to be appointed by the probate court (which is an expensive process). The minor will come into full use of all such monies allocated when he/she turns 18. Typically this is a bad thing to happen for a high school senior, to suddenly have access to a lot of money.

6. Failing to draft powers of attorneys.

Failing to draft powers of attorneys. A will is helpful to resolve issues after a person has died. During their lifetime, a much more important document for an individual to have is a set of carefully drawn powers of attorney that take care of an individual during a period of disability, or just assist that individual in managing his/her financial affairs. Additionally, an individual should have a trusted person appointed as their patient advocate and/or an alternate individual appointed as well.

How assets are titled actually can make much more of an impact on an individual's estate after death. For example, it is typically unwise to put children's' names on a deed to a home, as complications can occur should an individual decide, at some point, to mortgage or finance the home and one of the children has become incapacitated. In such a case, a conservator for that child would have to be appointed by the court, and then the court would have to approve such refinancing or sale of the home, as the case might be. Capital gains tax can also be an issue in this situation. 

Lastly, it is often wiser to have a trust to deal with special issues, such as a disabled child, or a child that is not able to wisely spend his/her money if given an outright significant gift of money. All these are excellent reasons to contact an experienced estate planning attorney to give an individual peace of mind. And, remember I published a book, "Estate Planning in Michigan," which is free and available to any of my readers by simply requesting one from my office staff.

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