Unorganized estate plans can cause headaches

Estate planning is the process of developing an estate, the goal being to address how you want your assets managed during your life and after you have died. Creating an estate plan allows preservation of your assets for your beneficiaries. It makes the difficult job of managing your finances and property after your death much easier for your loved ones.

An estate plan is like creating a blueprint. Documents such as wills, trusts, advanced directives, and powers of attorney give directions as to how you want your assets distributed after death. A clearly defined plan can go a long way in reducing arguments and disputes regarding your property and assets.

As such, the level of organization and the setup of your estate plan will protect loved ones from unnecessary challenges, ensuring a smooth transition of your assets, minimizing potential disputes, and ensuring that your wishes are carried out.  

Even a well-crafted plan should undergo periodic reviews, especially after a major life event. Over time, you may want to make modifications; for example, changes in beneficiary designations, trustee, or executor, or adding assets to your trust.

Unfortunately, unorganized estate plans can create real headaches when settling your estate.  Leaving an estate planning “mess” can result in a lengthy probate process, misinterpretations regarding the distribution of your assets, unfavorable tax consequences for your heirs, and costly, time-consuming legal fights.

Where to start

If you are the personal representative or executor in charge of dealing with a loved one’s estate, you have been tasked with a big job. But, if the deceased left you with an unorganized estate plan, the job of settling their estate can quickly become overwhelming. 

Don’t know where to begin? The following are four actions to help you deal with a messy estate plan:

  • Protect the estate’s assets
  • Locate the estate plan of the deceased
  • Begin making an unofficial inventory list of assets 
  • Determine how you want to handle the administration of the estate

If you are having trouble finding the deceased’s will or living trust:

  • Contact their attorney
  • Check safety deposit boxes
  • Check their home safe
  • For a trust, the financial institution of the deceased may also have a copy

How to proceed

The process of settling an estate is overwhelming, especially if left with a complicated, unorganized estate plan. In your role as executor or successor trustee, you want to have a clear understanding of the duties and financial responsibilities you need to exercise on behalf of the estate. 

At the San Diego Law Office of David W. Foley, we offer expert trust administration services to help you through this difficult time. The goal of our attorneys is to advise and guide you through the process of trust administration and to provide additional assistance with managing estates.