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Most Common Iowa Estate Planning Mistakes

Estate planning is an important part of being a responsible citizen, but many things can and do go wrong. The biggest estate planning misstate is failure to plan. The second most common mistake is failure to communicate the estate terms to the most relevant people, at a minimum the executor, trustee, and your heirs. You should be clear not only about the content of your estate documents, but also the location of all important papers. Failing to plan for the end of your life or if you are incapacitated is another common estate planning error. Finally, failing to keep your estate vibrant and updated is a common mistake, although luckily one that is easily avoided.


The biggest mistake most people make is not planning at all. People often delay doing what needs to be done in this area. It could be that you are unsure of how to divide your assets, or what type of medical directive you want, and think there will be time to get a plan in place later. Sometimes you do not know who to name as executor or trustee. Any one of these things, or a combination of these factors, can prevent you from moving forward with an estate plan.

But take our advice, it is very important that you have an estate plan. If you die without one, Iowa law decides who receives what from your estate, and when they get it. Failure to plan can also result in much higher taxes and expenses being charged against your estate. Do not wait any longer; figure out what you own, what you want to have happen to those things if you die tomorrow, and then call a trusted Iowa estate planning attorney to help you draft the proper documents.

Failing to Inform and Communicate With Family

For a variety of reasons, many people keep their estate plans a secret during their lifetime. The truth is, you really should share the important parts of your estate plan with your close family (spouse and children at a minimum). Once you prepare your estate documents, you should make it known. The right people should know not only the contents of your estate planning documents, but where they are located, and how to access them in the event of your serious illness or death.

It is ultimately your decision whether or not to share the specific provisions of your estate with your heirs. Talking in advance about your decisions gives your children or others the chance to understand your reasoning, especially in cases where you do not treat all of your heirs equally. While there may be some hurt feelings, open communication can help deal with them early on, and often avoids later court battles. That said, we understand having these conversations can be very difficult, and not necessarily the right choice in every family.

Failure to Plan for Not Dying

It is not just important to plan for what happens to your assets when you die, but it might also be necessary for someone to make decisions on your behalf at some point while you are still alive. Iowa has the Substitute Decision Maker Act, regulating the assignation of decision making authority under a power of attorney. A power of attorney is a document that gives another person legal authority to step into your shoes in the case of your incapacitation. You can make changes to power of attorney at any time, as long as you are still competent.

If you have specific wishes for how you want end of life matters to be handled, you should plan for them. Do you want to be on life support? Do you want the doctors to engage in heroic measures to save you if there is no hope for normal brain function? Many issues like this can be planned for and written out in advance, so that your wishes are complied with even when you are incapacitated.

Failing to Keep Estate Plan Updated

Once you make an estate plan, do not just put it in a safety deposit box and forget about it. You should have all estate planning documents reviewed regularly, as should beneficiary choices. Some events should make you have your documents reviewed automatically, such as divorce or death of a named beneficiary. It is always a good idea to have your estate reviewed annually.

With offices in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, the experienced estate planning attorneys at the Iowa law firm of Whitaker Hagenow & Gustoff can help you avoid all of these mistakes, and plan your estate in accordance with your wishes. Call or email us today for an initial consultation.

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