Ambrose Bierce, American writer and editor, once said, “Death is not the end. There remains the litigation over the estate.” Many estates have been torn asunder during probate. To avoid this possibility, many people go to the trouble of estate planning. They want to know that their assets will be distributed to the right people without the courts having a say in what is happening.

The problem is that estate plans fail all the time. Estate planners can tell you plenty of stories of why their clients' plans failed and the aftermath of the failure. In order to make sure your plan is a success, it is important to understand why so many fail.

Here are some of the top reasons why estate plans fail:

1. The estate plan is not kept up to date.

Many seniors go to the trouble and expense of planning their estates. They lay out all their assets and how they want each distributed after their death. They do all they need to do to make it official. Then, they forget about it. The problem with that approach is that life happens. What happens if the value of their assets falls significantly? What happens if the couple divorces? What happens if one spouse dies and the other marries again? These are real-world scenarios that can cause estate plans to become out of date.

Most estate planners tell their clients to look at their plans at least every two to three years. Annually is even better. The only action you might take each year is to confirm that everything is still current. Taking this time to review the plan will keep your plan current.

2. The estate plan does not cover critical contingencies.

Effective estate planning will cover most situations with clear instructions. However, many estate plans are light on the critical details that ultimately make a plan successful or not. Take this example. A parent leaves instructions that the family business is to pass to his two children equally. The parent does not detail what happens if one child wants to sell his or her share of the business. What happens if one of the children wants out of the business? Without clear instructions in the estate plan, the sibling can go to court and demand the sale of the business and the split of the net proceeds.

It is important to take plenty of time to plan for any contingencies related to the estate and its assets. For example, it is important to cover plans for disability as well as death. If the client is declared mentally incompetent, the courts can place his or her assets into conservancy which will by-pass any estate planning they might have had in place. A plan for disability can protect those assets and preserve the estate plan.

3. The client fails to fully carry out their estate plan.

Surprisingly, a big reason estate plans fail is because the client does not fully implement the plan. Failure to sign critical documents instantly makes the estate plan partially or completely void. Some fail to sign their will. Others do not properly transfer assets to living trusts. They fail to make planned gifts. These failures will most likely throw the estate at least partially into probate. It is very important to fully carry out the estate plan to avoid a failure.

These are just three of the reasons for estate plan failure. Estate planners can tell you of many more. When putting together your plan, remember to keep it up to date, try to cover all contingencies, and be ready to carry out the details of the plan.

Author's Bio: 

Robert J Welling is a retired estate planner and probate attorney who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife. After trying to stay away from the his life's work, he's been working recently on consulting online and writing his blog. Read his blog at where has recently published a lengthy piece on the new estate planning changes for 2013.