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Leaving confusion to heirs

Estate documents should ease the distribution of property and other matters for heirs. Inadequate estate planning, however, can end up passing on complications and problems.

The first problem is failing to leave a roadmap for all the assets acquired during a lifetime. These include brokerage and bank accounts, mutual fund holdings, insurance policies, and house and mortgage documents.

The hunt for this information may be further complicated by the myriad of passwords and user names needed to gain access. This also complicates protecting or changing digital assets, such as Amazon, Facebook or Instagram accounts. Cyber-theft and hacking must be prevented.

There should be one master roster containing all user names and passwords for investment accounts and other assets. While a safety deposit box is secure, keys are often lost. Many cloud services can be utilized to secure this information instead. Documents should also be kept in a secure location known to the executor or other family members.

Naming beneficiaries on retirement accounts, annuities and insurance policies is also a source of complications and potential probate litigation. Naming only one person in the will as the heir to mutual funds, for example, will not override the named beneficiaries of those accounts.

Naming multiple beneficiaries on real estate is another way to pass on problems. All the beneficiaries will have to agree on a realtor, sale price and pay for maintenance until the property is sold.

Outdated estate plans are a major problem. Spouses, children, tax laws, relationships and financial situations may have changed drastically since estate documents were executed decades earlier. Wills and other documents should be periodically reviewed to minimize problems and assure that a person's intent is carried out.

An experienced estate attorney can help provide options and review plans. Lawyers may ensure that estate documents are properly drafted and valid under Michigan law.

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