Don't Make These Estate Planning Mistakes

Actor Heath Ledger failed to redo the will he had signed before his daughter was born, leaving his entire $20 million fortune to his parents and sisters. The family of singer Aretha Franklin, who authored multiple contradictory wills, faced courtroom battles for years over her wealth.

Proper estate planning benefits all people, regardless of estate size, income status, and even age (Ledger was only 28 years old when he died). What are the common estate planning mistakes and how can you avoid making them?

Failing to plan or update your plan

If you haven’t already drafted an estate plan and wish to do so, please consider contacting an estate planning attorney immediately. If you have a plan on file, then it should be updated to reflect major life changes. The most obvious life changes include the birth or death of a family member, but other life changes should be considered as well. For example, if you’ve designated in your will that you’re leaving your home to a relative but you’ve recently sold the home, then your will needs to be updated.

Overlooked details

Is your estate plan detailed enough? While many people consider the big things, such as the house, car, and other assets, items with great sentimental value may be overlooked. Also, you should add digital assets (passwords, documents, photos, video files, etc.) to your estate plan if you haven’t already.

Is your will legally binding?

In Michigan, a handwritten (holographic) will may be legally binding if the testator (writer of the will) is at least 18 years old and if the document is signed by two competent witnesses. However, most legal experts will argue against using handwritten wills because of the many mistakes a person is likely to make. As an example, the family of singer Aretha Franklin, who died in August of 2018, uncovered three wills after her death. These documents ultimately led to family squabbles, the resignation of the estate’s executor, and continued tensions surrounding Franklin’s estate, valued at $80 million.

Did you organize your financial affairs?

You may wish to create a list of typical monthly bills and write down account numbers and passwords to assist your executor. Consider documenting all relevant information, including items such as internet-based subscriptions, automatic deductions on credit cards, automatic utility payments, and other obligations for which there’s no monthly bill.

Do you have care lined up for your survivors?

If you care for a loved one, it’s important to have a plan in place regarding who will care for your child or another dependent after you’re gone. Don’t forget to formalize your wishes about the care for your pets as well.

Learn more on March 16 at 10 a.m. in Sterling Heights

Join O’Reilly Rancilio attorney Brian Grant as he discusses the common estate planning mistakes people make and how to avoid them on March 16 at 10 a.m. at the Sterling Heights Senior Center. To register for the free seminar, visit

Categories: Estate Planning