Will Your Estate Plan Actually Work When Your Family Needs It?
November 6, 2020, was “National Love Your Lawyer Day,” which started in 2001 as a way to celebrate lawyers for their positive contributions and encourage the public to view lawyers in a more favorable light. As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we’re dedicated to improving the public’s perception of lawyers by offering family-centered legal services specifically tailored to provide our clients with the kind of attention and trust we’d want for our own loved ones. With that in mind, this post gives some insight into how this vision for a new law business model first came about.
If you’re like most people, you likely think estate planning is just one more task to check off of your life’s endless “to-do” list.
You may shop around and find a lawyer to create planning documents for you, or you might try creating your own DIY plan using online documents. Then, you’ll put those documents into a drawer, mentally check estate planning off your to-do list, and forget about them.
The problem is, estate planning is not a one-and-done type of deal.
In fact, if it’s not regularly updated when your assets, family situation, and the laws change, your plan will be worthless. What’s more, failing to update your plan can create its own set of problems that can leave your family worse off than if you’d never created a plan at all.
The following true story illustrates the consequences of not updating your plan, and it happened to a colleague of mine.
A game-changing realization
When my colleague was in law school, her father-in-law died. He’d done his estate planning—or at least thought he had. He paid a Florida law firm roughly $3000 to prepare an estate plan for him, so his family wouldn’t be stuck dealing with the hassles and expense of probate court or drawn into needless conflict with his ex-wife.
And yet, after his death, that’s exactly what did happen. His family was forced to go to court in order to claim assets that were supposed to pass directly to them. And on top of that, they had to deal with his ex-wife and her attorneys in the process.
The family couldn’t understand it. If her father-in-law paid $3,000 for an estate plan, why were his loved ones dealing with the court and his ex-wife? It turned out that not only had his planning documents not been updated, but his assets were not even properly titled.
My colleague’s father-in-law created a trust so that when he died, his assets would pass directly to his family, and they wouldn’t have to endure probate. But some of his assets had never been transferred into the name of his trust from the beginning. And since there was no updated inventory of his assets, there was no way for his family to even confirm everything he had when he died. To this day, one of his accounts is still stuck in the Florida Department of Unclaimed Property.
You would think for sure this must be malpractice. But after interviewing other top estate-planning lawyers across the country, my colleague confirmed what happened to her father-in-law wasn’t malpractice at all. In fact, it was common practice.
Will your plan work when your family needs it?
We hear similar stories from our clients all the time. In fact, outside of not creating any plan at all, one of the most common planning mistakes we encounter is when we get called by the loved ones of someone who has become incapacitated or died with a plan that no longer works. Yet by that point, it’s too late, and the loved ones left behind are forced to deal with the aftermath.
We recommend you review your plan annually to make sure it’s up to date and immediately amend your plan following events like divorce, deaths, births, and inheritances. This is so important, we’ve created proprietary systems designed to ensure these updates are made for all of our clients, so you don’t need to worry about whether you’ve overlooked anything as your family, the law, and your assets change over time.
Furthermore, because your plan is designed to protect and provide for your loved ones in the event of your death or incapacity, we aren’t just here to serve you—we’re here to serve your entire family. We take the time to get to know your family members and include them in the planning process, so everyone affected by your plan is well-aware of what your latest planning strategies are and why you made the choices you did.
Unfortunately, many estate planning firms do not engage with the whole family when creating estate plans, leaving the spouse and other loved ones largely out of the loop. We believe the planning process works best when all of your loved ones are educated and engaged. We can even facilitate regular family meetings to keep everyone up to date.
Built-in systems to keep your plan current
Our legal services are designed to make estate planning as streamlined and worry-free as possible for both you and your family. Unlike other lawyers, we don’t just create legal documents and put the onus on you to ensure they stay updated and function as intended—we take care of that on our end.
For example, our built-in systems and processes would’ve prevented two of the biggest mistakes made by the lawyers who created her father-in-law’s plan. These mistakes include: 1) not keeping his assets properly inventoried, and 2) not properly titling assets held by his trust.
Maintaining a regularly updated inventory of all your assets is one of the most vital parts of keeping your plan current. We’ll not only help you create a comprehensive asset inventory; we’ll make sure the inventory stays consistently updated throughout your lifetime.
Start creating an inventory of everything you own to ensure your loved ones know what you have, where it is, and how to access it if something happens to you. From there, meet with us to incorporate your inventory into a comprehensive set of planning strategies that we’ll keep updated throughout your lifetime.
As to properly titling assets held by a trust, when you create a trust, it’s not enough to list the assets you want it to cover. You have to transfer the legal title of certain assets—real estate, bank accounts, securities, brokerage accounts—to the trust, known as “funding” the trust, in order for them to be disbursed properly.
While most lawyers will create a trust for you, few will ensure your assets are properly funded. We’ll not only make sure your assets are properly titled when you initially create your trust, but we’ll also ensure that any new assets you acquire over the course of your life are inventoried and properly funded to your trust. This will keep your assets from being lost, as well as prevent your family from being inadvertently forced into court because your plan was never fully completed.
For the love of your family
With us as your Personal Family Lawyer®, our planning services go far beyond simply creating documents and then never seeing you again. In fact, we’ll develop a relationship with your family that lasts not only for your lifetime but for the lifetime of your children and their children, if that’s your wish.
We’ll support you in not only creating a plan that keeps your family out of court and out of conflict in the event of your death or incapacity, but we’ll also ensure your plan is regularly updated to make certain that it works and is there for your family when you cannot be. Contact us today to get started.
Matt Wasinger, Attorney and Counselor at Law
This article is a service of Matt, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.