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Common Mistakes When Making a Will

By Megan Gebhardt, Gebhardt Law Office

Parents work hard to raise their children, but often miss the opportunity to make a plan for their estate and children should anything happen to them.

Here are a few common estate-planning mistakes that can leave your family with less than what you meant to leave them, or even worse, a mess to clean up.

1. Having No Will. Surveys show that only 36% of adults have a will in place, and that one in five millennials (ages 18-36) have a will in place. The most common reason given for not having a will was that the person just had not gotten around to it. As we see when celebrities die without a will in place, it can mean that assets go to other people than intended. The point of a will is to document your wishes. This is not just limited to passing assets — a will or trust can also control how and when your beneficiary receives the assets.

2. Not Updating your Will. Life changes, but all too often, people think of their wills as documents that can be left for years or decades without a check-in. Let's say that when you make your will, you name your cousin as the guardian of your children, confident that should something happen to you and your partner, he or she will take on the role of raising your children in a responsible and capable way.

Years later your cousin has had three children of her own, is in a rocky relationship, or has a serious health issue, and you neglect to update your will. As a result, you could be directing the court to give custody of your children to someone who is no longer the best choice as guardian. A good rule of thumb is to review your will once a year. Make sure that the document is still in line with your current wishes.

3. Failure to plan for the unexpected with your Heirs. When you make your estate plan, consider whether your heirs — let’s say your children — have the financial and emotional capacity to handle the money responsibly. They may face special needs, lack practical experience with managing money and budgeting, or could have an asset-consuming issue, such as a suffering from a substance abuse issue.

To plan for the unexpected, you can use tools in your will that protect your heirs inheritance for them and from them, such as a children’s trust that appoints a trusted individual to manage and spend trust assets according to trust purposes.

4.  Naming the Wrong People to Roles in Your Will.  Many people feel that they have an obligation to name close family members to the important roles in your will, such as Personal Representative, Children’s Guardian, or Children’s Trust Trustee, regardless of their skill sets to handle these roles. It is a safer bet to name someone that can do the job well. I always advise clients to put obligation or guilt aside, and name who they really would like to have execute the job.

For parents, the idea of putting an estate plan into place can be overwhelming. We are busy and it’s not always a top priority to plan for the unthinkable. However, creating an estate plan is the most important thing you can do to make certain your child is cared for if anything should happen to you. I am always happy to answer reader’s questions and can be reached at

Megan Gebhardt, owner of Gebhardt Law Office, focuses her practice exclusively on estate planning. She serves as a volunteer speaker for PEPS groups and on the Board of the Washington First Responder Will Clinic. About the Author

Megan lives in Seattle with her husband and two sons. She is the Owner of Gebhardt Law Office, and focuses her practice exclusively on estate planning. She serves as a volunteer speaker for PEPS groups and on the Board of the Washington First Responder Will Clinic. She is an enthusiastic supporter of PEPS and always recommends it as the first thing to sign up for when she finds out someone is expecting.

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