November 6, 2020 is “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 love, 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 likely be worthless when it’s needed most. 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 friend of mine who also happens to be an estate planning lawyer.
A game-changing realization
When my friend was in law school, her father-in-law died. He’d done his estate planning—or at least thought he had. He paid a 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.
As my friend tells it, she was totally perplexed. 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 never properly titled.
Her 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 the family doesn’t know if they uncovered all of his assets.
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 are forced to deal with the mess left behind.
We recommend you review your plan at least every three years 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.