Once an estate plan is created, in many estate planning attorneys’ experiences, clients tend to believe that their work is finished – a box is checked off the “to do” list and the estate plan is placed in a file cabinet to collect dust until a loved one finds it some years later. For an estate plan to be guaranteed to work, however, an estate plan requires regular review and updating. Some of the ways people maintain their estate plans include:
Enrollment in Law Firm Maintenance Program. Some law offices, including Scott K. Maxwell Professional Law Corporation, offer a maintenance program to ensure that clients’ estate plans remain up to date with both the clients’ life events and with outside forces that may affect their plans, such as changes in state or federal law. An effective maintenance program schedules meetings with clients at least annually to review the plan and make any appropriate changes, which would include word processing amendments requested by the client, advice on where to fund new assets, review of the estate plan to ensure that it still meets client goals, and law firm recommended legal changes based on changes in laws. Also included should be complimentary guidance to the client’s family members and financial professionals upon the client’s disability or death.
Self Maintenance. If clients opt not to enroll in a law firm maintenance program, clients may choose to self maintain, which should include calendaring a date at least annually to read through the existing estate plan and consider whether any life-changing events or newly acquired assets necessitate any changes in the existing plan. The clients should then schedule a meeting with their attorney to review the proposed changes and have the attorney draft and oversee the execution of amendments.
The client should never make changes to their estate plan without consulting an attorney. An estate plan
is a carefully crafted collection of legal documents, which all follow strict legal requirements. Many times client amendments to wills or trusts are ineffective or, perhaps worse, inadvertently invalidate the original document and the changes. For example, handwritten changes and cross-outs on a will could invalidate the entire will.
Wait Until Something Happens and See If It Works. Surprisingly, this is the strategy (if it can be called a strategy) that most people rely on after their estate plans are created. Estate planning, however, involves three important steps: (1) creating the plan; (2) integration (i.e. funding the trust); and (3) maintenance. Ignoring the third step could render the entire plan ineffective – so why did the client bother with creating an estate plan in the first place?
For example, a parent may create an estate plan that includes planning for several children. At some point later in time, a family fallout occurs and the parent no longer wishes to leave anything to the child. But if nothing is done to change the estate plan, what happens after the parent’s disability or death will not be what the parent wanted. Similar unintended consequences can result from births and deaths in the family, marriage and divorce, addiction, disability (the client’s or the beneficiary’s), and changes in state and federal law.
Conclusion. The most effective estate plan – that is, one that is sure to carry out the client’s objectives and goals – is continually updated with the constant oversight of an experienced estate planning attorney.