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3 common estate planning mistakes

Even if you have a relatively small estate, distributing assets to heirs is no easy feat. That's why knowing how to avoid common mistakes is so important. Doing so can save you money on taxes and legal costs, while also knowing your family will be well cared for after you're gone.

U.S. News & World Report lists not properly updating your estate planning documents as a major concern. Revisiting your documents once every three to five years is recommended to ensure your wishes are still upheld. You may also want to go over your will and trust documents after any significant life changes, such as an heir getting married or divorced, or after the onset of a serious illness.

If you do include a trust in your estate planning arsenal, remember that this tool operates a bit differently than a will. Trusts must be funded, which means that assets are retitled so they are owned by the trust and not the individual. Failure to properly fund your trust will result in the courts deciding who receives what assets. You should also keep financial accounts, such as a retirement fund, in mind. You must complete the beneficiary designation with the name of the recipient to ensure assets are dispersed correctly.

According to Marketwatch.com, it's also important to have professional legal help when estate planning. While you are free to fill out documents on your own, this increases the chance that you'll make a serious mistake. An attorney can look over documents to make sure they're valid and executed correctly. They can also help people with more complex estates or more assets arrange their plan in such a way that it minimizes costs and taxes.

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