A few years ago, my husband and I sat down with all of our children and their spouses for a family meeting. I started with, “Our plan is to live forever. But just in case ………” and we proceeded to tell them about our new estate plan, who would have which responsibility, where important data is kept, who takes care of things for us, who our doctors are, and who to call if something happens. We told them where the documents are kept and where they would find our passwords.
This year I’ve had a particularly large number of clients returning for a check-up who signed estate plans 10, 15 or even 20 years ago. Their families have experienced deaths, divorces, marriages, births, retirements, disabilities. Things change. The plan that was fine then might not be so fine with these new circumstances. New plans that are just expressed in conversation don’t change that old signed document. The person who was designated to handle the estate or trust might no longer be so agile or capable. The spouses might not really be able to depend on each other for all the financial management or decision-making. There are endless ways to construct an estate plan that works. There are also plenty of ways to end up with a plan — or no plan — that leaves chaos in its wake when the time comes.
Documents are often better if they deal with the details, because vague and “simple” language could lead to unintended consequences that undermine what you might have wanted. Here are a few ideas to consider when building an estate plan. These are general ideas only, and are not intended to provide legal advice to any specific reader. Recent posts have discussed pointers regarding agents under power of attorney. Trusts in the Will can be very useful if your beneficiary is young, disabled, unable to manage their own affairs, or in the throes of financial troubles. Life insurance can be a fantastic tool to provide cash to fund such a trust. Special consideration can be given to the structuring of out-of-state property, to avoid unnecessary entanglements in out-of-state probate processes. When there’s real estate that’s of special importance, certain heirs can be given occupancy rights, right of first refusal to purchase it from the estate within a specified time, shared ownership, and so on. And don’t forget to evaluate the assets that have beneficiaries (such as IRAs) to make sure they fit in with your overall plan. The whole idea is to think it through and get it written clearly.
Our lives are locked boxes in many respects. At some point it’s important to share your protected information with the ones you trust, so that they know how to get started if that day ever comes. Or at least tell them who to go to to get the keys.
Call us for ideas on designing or updating your estate plan. Call for appointment …….. 732-382-6070,