Estate Planning Is Important for Everyone — Consider These Do’s and Don’ts

While many people may think of estate planning as an exercise reserved for those with lots of money and/or those of advanced age, it’s important for all of us — not just the old and rich.

After all, life is uncertain for everyone. And no matter your age or wealth, devoting a small amount of time and effort in the present to documenting how you’d like your affairs handled and assets distributed upon your passing can prevent lots of potential anguish and hassles for loved ones in the future. In addition, the documents needed to create a will and living will are relatively simple, and the stakes are high — so when it comes to estate planning, the sooner you get started, the better.

A dozen do’s and don’ts of estate planning

In essence, the process of estate planning involves taking action ahead of time to ensure that your wishes are known and followed should you pass away or become incapacitated. While the process for most is typically straightforward and uncomplicated, there are some common estate-planning mistakes and omissions to be aware of when documenting how your cash and assets will be handled when you’re gone or otherwise unable to share your decisions.

Consider these do’s and don’ts when doing your estate planning — which it’s best to take care of sooner rather than later:

  • DO create a will — A last will and testament enables you to specify in advance what you’d like to be done with your money, investments, belongings and other assets when you pass away. And if you don’t create one, these decisions could be left in the hands of a court — and they may not go as you’d prefer. To ensure that your preferences are known and followed, it’s critical to have a will in place before it’s too late.
  • … and a living will — Similarly, a living will — also known as a health care directive or an advance directive — lets you formally specify how you’d like for your health care-related decisions to be handled should you become unable to actively communicate your preferences. Some of the medical decisions that a living will can cover include whether or not you’d want CPR performed in certain cases, whether you’d want to be put on a ventilator if unable to adequately breathe on your own, and whether you’d want to receive artificial nutrition via a feeding tube and artificial hydration via an IV if you’re unable to eat and/or drink on your own.
  • DO prepare a separate will from your spouse if married — When couples create a joint will, the estate must go through the time-consuming legal process of probate when the first person in the joint will passes. And when this happens, the terms of the will are locked in until the second party passes away. In the meantime, circumstances can change as a result of remarriage, the birth of additional children or grandchildren, the addition, loss or growth of assets, etc. making changes to a joint will after a member of the couple dies can be a complicated process, but the complexities are significantly reduced if individual wills have been created instead.
  • DO designate your beneficiaries — By naming your beneficiaries in your will, you can ensure that your assets are given to the people, charities and/or companies of your choosing in the wake of your passing. A failure to name beneficiaries for your assets, such as any cash, funds in bank accounts, investments, real estate and other items of value you may own, can cause added paperwork and delays related to their distribution — potentially creating additional headaches and stress for your loved ones.
  • DO create a durable power of attorney — A power of attorney is a legal document that designates a person of your choosing who is allowed to make decisions related to your personal property, finances and (if stipulated) health care if you’re unable to do so. And while a general power of attorney expires when you become incapacitated or die, a durable one remains in place so that your designated representative can still handle important matters when you’re unable or absent.
  • DO get help if needed — Even for those whose estates are not particularly large or complicated, getting the guidance of an estate-planning professional can be a good idea. Expert guidance can help ensure that all recommended steps have been completed thoroughly and accurately, helping prevent complications and delays during asset distribution.
  • DON’T put off your estate planning — None of us ever know what the future may hold, or when our time for estate planning may run out. And by taking the time to think through and document your estate preferences in the present, you can be certain that your estate-planning duties are complete should the unexpected strike. Especially for those with dependents whose livelihood and well-being depend on them, putting an estate plan in place is critical.
  • DON’T forget to name legal guardians — For most parents, and especially parents of young children, ensuring that their kids will be well cared for if they were to pass may be the single most important element of estate planning. And by designating a legal guardian for your children — and for your pets — you can make sure they’re in good hands by naming a family member or friend as their designated caretaker in the event of your passing.
  • DON’T name children as joint owners of your assets — If you name children as joint owners of your assets during estate planning, it can expose you and your belongings to a range of unnecessary liability. This is because doing so opens up the possibility of creditors gaining access to your money and other assets should a child fall into debt or suffer a misfortune such as getting into a car accident and being found liable for damages. A preferable, liability-limiting option is to give children power of attorney and name them as a beneficiary payable upon your death, which can enable them to access your assets if needed without exposing the assets to his or her creditors.
  • DON’T fail to account for any assets — When doing your estate planning, your residence and the funds in your bank accounts are obvious assets to account for. But estate planning should be thorough and account for all of your assets, especially those of high value. Be sure to make plans for what will be done with all of your assets upon passing — including any stocks, bonds, vehicles, real estate holdings beyond your primary residence, life insurance policies, retirement funds and other investments in your name.
  • DON’T overlook sentimental and sought-after items — Beyond accounts, investments and other financial holdings, your estate also includes any collectibles, artwork, jewelry, family heirlooms, prized possessions, etc. that you may own. You’ll want to make sure you make and document your decisions regarding who will inherit all of these belongings, especially if any of your loved ones might have a strong connection to any of them or a heightened interest in attaining them after your passing.
  • DON’T neglect to make occasional updates — Of course, as time passes, our life situations and holdings can change. Marriages, divorces, births, deaths, windfalls and a range of other life events can have significant impacts on your estate and its holdings, so you’ll want to review your estate-planning documents from time to time to ensure that all is in order and up to date. Many estate-planning experts suggest reviewing your plans every five years or so, and revisiting them following major life events.


A range of helpful resources

Looking for a guide to estate planning? The Arthur State Bank blog is home to a number of helpful articles on the topic and can serve as something of an estate-planning guide. Some of the resources currently available on the blog include:


Further, Arthur State Bank’s trust and wealth professionals are always happy to help answer any questions you may have. To connect with a personal trust advisor, contact us today.

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Man doing his banking online is the only source for free credit reports authorized by the federal government. Every 12 months, you can get a free copy of your credit report from each agency.

Your credit report has your credit history for all of your credit accounts as well as any credit inquiries and public record court information such as collections. In addition, the report provides personally identifiable information such as your name, address, and employment.

Be sure to carefully review all three reports to identify any problem areas that you may need to clean up prior to applying for a mortgage. If there is any incorrect information, follow the reporting agency’s rules to correct it or add a notation to the report to explain the situation.

Your FICO Score is a score combines data from several areas include payment history, the amount owed, length of credit history, new accounts. Many lenders use this score as a guide. This score is not provided as part of the free annual credit report.

Learn more about how your credit score impacts your ability to secure a loan.


Couple looking over finances

Primary considerations for setting your housing budget require an assessment of your income, debt and current savings for the down payment on the home. The following are generally recommended guidelines; however, you should meet with an Arthur State Bank lender to get personalized mortgage information.


Couple meeting with lender

The pre-qualification/pre-approval letter is included with any offer you make on a house to inform the seller that you have met with a mortgage lender and you are prepared to make an offer. The letter states that based on certain assumptions, the bank is prepared to lend you up to a specified amount of money for a home mortgage.

When choosing a loan officer, we recommend going local to work with someone who understands your community’s real estate market. This blog on first-time home purchases includes questions to ask your lender that may be helpful when preparing for your meeting.

Helpful Resources:


Realtor shaking hands with a client

When a house is sold, the seller typically pays real estate commission to both the listing agent and the selling agent. It is extremely beneficial for the buyer to use their own real estate agent. Loan officers can often recommend selling agents in the area; ask your officer about realtor referrals when discussing your loan.

A good realtor will know the local market and can help you find an ideal home based on your budget, location and desired features. During your search, understand that you will most likely need to compromise on some items, so it’s important to identify your critical needs versus your wants.


Couple searching online for a home

Additionally, when you start with the house search and work backwards, homes can often go off the market while you’re completing steps 1-4. While browsing homes immediately can be tempting, we recommend following these steps in order so that, once you find your dream home, you’ll be well-positioned to take action immediately.

When you find the home you want and you think you are ready to put an offer on it, you will want to make sure you have all the information you need to make a solid offer.

  • Evaluate the neighborhood.
  • Drive by the house at different times of the day.
  • Examine how other houses in the neighborhood are maintained.
  • Consider any potential traffic or other disruptive noise.
  • Is there ample parking for you and visitors?
  • Read the details in any Homeowner Association agreements (HOA fees and rules).

Make sure to do a preliminary check of house details:

  • Check the water:
  • Does it have good pressure?
  • How long does it take to get the water hot?
  • Is it well water or city water?
  • Turn light switches on and off.
  • Open and close doors and windows to make sure they work properly.
  • Review previous utility bill expenses.
  • Consider the property tax bill.


Family meeting with realtor at new house

When writing an offer contract, be sure to pay attention to all of the details.

Offer Price:

Your agent should do a market analysis that pulls data on recently sold comparable houses. The best comparisons will come from the same neighborhood.

If you are asking for the seller to pay some of the closing costs, remember that this cost plus the sales commission determines the net amount you are offering the seller for the house.

Work with your agent on your negotiation strategy. There are many things to consider, such as how badly you want this particular house, whether it is a buyer’s or seller’s market and an assessment of the seller’s motivation to get the property sold.

There isn’t one best strategy.

Be sure to document in writing everything you want included with the house, such as appliances, etc. Your agent should guide you through the contract step-by-step.


  • Home inspection.
  • Mortgage.
  • Final walk through (24 hours prior to closing).

Proposed closing date. Typically, this is 30-45 days from an accepted offer.

A good-faith deposit is required for the offer. This is typically between 1-10% of the purchase price of the house. The deposit is kept in escrow until closing and the money is applied to the purchase price of the house at closing. If the house does not close due to one of the contingency clauses, the buyer receives their money back. However, if the buyer decides not to close on the property, the seller may get the deposit money.

Attach your pre-approval letter to the offer.


Two people in professional meeting

The clock starts ticking for everything documented in the contract, including mortgage application, inspections and closing date.


Woman advising other woman on mortgage application

You will need to decide which mortgage to select prior to the application.

Plan for the following potential fees:

  • Application fee (many banks and mortgage companies charge an application fee; however, there is not an application fee at Arthur State Bank).
  • Credit check.
  • Appraisal (may be paid at closing).
  • Loan origination fee (paid at closing).

Once you have approval for your loan, make sure you don’t change anything that will impact the status of your mortgage. Banks do a final check on credit and jobs just prior to closing, so now is not the time to change jobs or make another purchase on credit such as a car or furniture.


Home inspector going over findings with home owner

Depending on the size of the house, an inspection can cost on average between $300 to $1000.

Many real estate contracts specify how problems uncovered in the inspection will be resolved, up to a certain dollar amount. Should necessary repairs exceed that amount, the buyer has the option to cancel the contract without penalty and receive their deposit money back. Another option is for the buyer and seller to renegotiate who will pay for additional repairs.


Woman happily holding keys to her new home
  • Homeowner’s insurance is required by the lender prior to closing on the loan.
  • Turn on utilities in your name, effective the closing date.
  • Change your address with the U.S. Postal Service.
  • Make moving arrangements.

Three days prior to closing:

  • You should receive your final Closing Disclosure from the closing agency. The final Closing Disclosure shows a column for the seller and a column for the buyer. All closing charges and credits for both the seller and the buyer are documented in the closing statement.
  • Review the closing statement for accuracy prior to coming to closing.
  • The final amount in the buyer’s column shows you the amount of money you need to pay at closing.

The closing office will provide specific payment instructions. Closing funds have become recent targets for cybercriminals. If you are asked to use a wire transfer, call the office and ask to speak to someone you have been working with to double-check the instructions.

Closing day:

In South Carolina, the closing will usually take place at the attorney’s office. Everyone signing for the mortgage must be present to sign the closing paperwork. Make sure you bring the following:

  • Cashier’s check or proof of payment for wire transfer.
  • Driver’s license.
  • Checkbook, just in case there are any additional items that were not on the closing statement.

Be sure to understand this information:

  • How and when you will pay:
  • Your mortgage.
  • Your property taxes.
  • Your homeowner’s insurance.
  • Any HOA dues.
  • Who to call with any questions.

The best practice is to go through the homebuyer’s roadmap in this sequence. However, if you jumped ahead early in your journey, just circle back to address the steps you missed.

Arthur State Bank’s loan officers are closely tapped into local real estate markets and experts at helping clients get what they need on terms that work for them. We also offer mortgage specials for first-time homebuyers.

To start planning your journey to your dream home, try out our mortgage calculator. If you’re ready to talk to a loan officer, contact Arthur State Bank to request personalized mortgage information today. Don’t forget to ask about our first-time homebuyer offer.