Skillful estate planners concoct murder, boondoggling, and nefarious financial ruin, then transform into their own devil’s advocate so they may exorcise the evil they’ve created. More pleasantly put, they plan for life’s unknowns. Still, most estate planning transgressions result from a recurring set of less than sensational planning failures that we can call Estate Planning’s Seven Deadly Sins.

1. Failing to control health care decision making.

Today about 85% of all deaths occur in hospitals, nursing homes, or long term care facilities.The result is longer periods where we may lack decision making capacity. Who would make decisions on your behalf and would there be family conflict?The solution is having a comprehensive healthcare directive also known as a healthcare power of attorney. This identifies your decision-makers and articulates your healthcare wishes, giving critical guidance to your family.

2. Failing to control assets during incapacity.

Without the appropriate legal documents to manage our assets during incapacity it may be necessary forour familyto obtain a conservatorship to manage our affairs should we become unable to do so. Problems with conservatorships are: they are time consuming, expensive, emotionally trying for our family,and sometimes cases of abuse go unnoticed. We may avoid a conservatorship by using a durable power of attorney to delegate an agent the power to make financial decisions on our behalf. Most important, we choose our agent, not a court.

3. No Medical Retirement Plan.

Everyone is concerned about death and estate taxes. Perhaps a greater concern is providing for long term care or assistance at home should that need arise. The cost of nursing home care is in the range of $5,000 to $6,000 per month and for many families this is catastrophic. One approach is to self-insure if you have the assets to do so. The second approach is to use public benefit planning to structure your affairs in order to qualify for medical assistance thru Medicaid. The third option is to transfer this risk to a long term care insurance company. This can also be expensive, so shop around for quotes.

4. Thinking adult children donot need inheritance protection.

What if your heir suffers a divorce orgets sued? Statistics tells us that approximately half of American marriages end in divorce and in this economy,business venturesare not for the weak of pocket. Protect your lifetime’s savings from the chopping block with the use of an asset protection trust. This way, what you leave behind grows and compounds for years to come while protecting it from divorce settlements, lawsuits, and yes, from the beneficiaries themselves.

5. Not preserving tax-deferral benefits from retirement plans.

For many people, one of their largest assets is their retirement plan. Here’s the problem, there is a potential double taxation of both estate taxes and income taxes immediately upon death resulting in a loss of up to 75% of your retirement plan; ouch! The longer beneficiaries keep funds in the IRA after your death, the more wealth they can create. Protect your retirement funds by utilizing an IRAdesignated beneficiary trust (DBT). This specialized trust is uniquely designed to hold, protect, and distribute retirement accounts in accordance with the complex 409a regulations, thuspreserving the stretch opportunities enabling a lifetime of asset protection for your beneficiaries.

6. Failing to plan for tangible personal property.

You know what most heirs fight about? It’s not the family home, but rather Me-Maw’s accordion or dad’s guns. In addition to a will or trust, it’s imperative to have a personal property memorandum where we identify where our keepsakes are to go. For my clients, I create several pages of blank lines so they can handwrite these items and wishes, allowing them to modify these decisions as often as they wish and without having to redraft the entire will.

7. Not leaving a treasure map.

Perhaps the best gift we can leave our heirs is a well-written letter. Include a list of steps they should take to locate your important documents, keys, passwords, and a list of people to be notified. This is also a great opportunity to say thank you, immortalize your values and beliefs, express your wishes, recount your blessings, or perhaps rant with Old Testament flair. Finally, explain why you left what to whom. Heirs can be deeply hurt by our failure to explain the intent behind our bequests. Sinful or not, forgiveness for this transgression comes slowly if at all.