Update Your Estate Plan or Start Over


Jennifer Short, JD July 11, 2023

On this blog, we spend a lot of time talking about what you SHOULD include in your estate plan. Most people should have a will where they list instructions on what should happen to their assets when they die. Others choose to have a trust drafted as well to avoid probate and/or protect their assets from creditors. Although your documents should be thorough and provide all necessary information, some things should NEVER be mentioned in your documents, for security purposes.

Here are three things you SHOULDN'T include in your estate planning documents:

1. Social Security Numbers

2. Account Numbers

3. Disparaging Remarks

Don't Include Social Security Numbers in Your Estate Plan

You may think it makes sense to refer to your loved ones in your estate plan by using their Social Security numbers. After all, you want to ensure they're correctly identified when the time comes. But this is not safe! It's important to provide enough information in your estate plan to make beneficiaries easily identifiable, but use legal names (full first, middle, and last), not social security numbers. Several estate planning documents may become part of the public record. A will may need to be filed with the court or a trust may need recorded if real estate is transferred. So, providing Social Security numbers leaves your loved ones vulnerable to identity theft. Once these documents are a part of public record, complete strangers will have access to this private information. Anyone can make a request to see these documents by paying a small fee.

Keep in mind, you may need to provide Social Security numbers when you designate beneficiaries for your retirement accounts and life insurance accounts. However, those forms never become a part of public record and aren't as vulnerable to identity theft.

Leave Account Numbers Out of Your Estate Plan

Unauthorized people may use account numbers to steal money from those accounts. So, make sure to leave account numbers out of your estate plan. If those documents become public record, your account numbers will be able to be seen by anyone. Instead, keep your account numbers in a separate secure location. Also, be cautious about making these readily available to family members. Your designated financial power of attorney, guardian, trustee, and/or executor should be the only people with access to your account numbers.

Think carefully about who you choose to act in these roles. Although a family member is often the best choice, sometimes they can be untrustworthy. For example, in October 2022, Kile and Debra Madsen were found guilty of theft after they made unauthorized purchases, payments, and withdrawals from Kile’s father’s bank account. Kile’s father, who was 86 when he died in 2018, suffered from dementia. The pair were sentenced to several years in prison and forbidden from caring for any elderly, disabled, or impaired adult.

Don't Put Disparaging Remarks in Your Documents

Many people have difficult family relationships. It may be tempting to release your pent-up frustrations in your will and have 'the last word'. But, a few courts have held an estate, or the executor of an estate, liable for testamentary libel, that is, publishing a false statement that is damaging to a person’s reputation in a will.

For example, in the 1914 case Harris v. Nashville Trust Co., the plaintiff's uncle included the following in a codicil to his will: “And this sum of two hundred and fifty (250) Dollars to John Woodfin, $1.00 to William Woodfin, and $1.00 to Cleo Woodfin, the illegitimate children of my brother James Woodfin, is all that they are ever to have of my estate.” At that time, illegitimacy was viewed very negatively, so Cleo filed suit against the executor of the estate. She alleged that she was the legitimate child of her parents and that the codicil had been maliciously added to the will to “blacken her character.”

So, it is prudent to call upon the better angels of your nature and use your will to bless those you love instead of blasting those you dislike.

Let the Estate Planning Attorneys at DuPont & Blumenstiel Help You Keep Your Assets Safe

As experienced estate planning attorneys, we will make sure that the information necessary to achieve your wishes is included in your documents. Anything that would risk damage to your estate and your beneficiaries is excluded. Call us today at 614-408-0529 to set up an appointment so you can look forward to gaining the peace of mind that comes with knowing you have put a plan in place that protects you and your loved ones.

So, what should you include in your estate plan? Check out our Consumer's Guide to Estate Planning in Ohio here.