When I started out as an estate planning attorney 16 years ago, estate planning was viewed as a one time transaction consisting of the following steps:
- First you met with the clients;
- Then you drafted their estate planning documents;
- Then you reviewed the documents with the clients and they signed them; and
- Finally, you sent the clients on their way with their perfect estate plan.
What happened next? The clients proceeded to stick their estate plan in a drawer and forgot about it until it was needed. Today, that view has significantly changed.
Life and Law Changes Should Lead to Changes in Your Estate Plan
Not only have state and federal tax and estate planning laws changed dramatically over the years since you signed your estate planning documents, but most likely so has your life. You may have married, or divorced and remarried; had a loved one die; inherited money from a family member or friend; bought or sold a business; retired; had or adopted children; bought a second vacation home or moved to a new state; or - here's my favorite - won the lottery. All of these life and legal changes will have direct implications for your estate plan, and so you need to stay on top of it or your plan won't work when it's needed the most. Aside from this, I'll bet there are quite a few of you who have unfunded or only partially funded Revocable Living Trusts.
Modern Estate Planning for the Modern Family
Let's face it, gone are the days of being married to the same person for 40 years and having two hard working children and four well-adjusted grandchildren. Instead, modern families require a modern approach to estate planning. This means that setting up your estate plan is certainly not a static event. On the contrary, you need to view estate planning as an ongoing, lifelong process, as if your life depends on it. If you fail to do this, then your estate plan will fail when it's needed the most.
By viewing estate planning as a lifelong process, one that you need to work at and tend to day in and day out as your life and the laws change, you will gain peace of mind because you will have an estate plan that will work as you expect it to work. Hopefully your estate planning attorney will share this view and help keep you and your estate plan on track. If not, then you should consider finding an estate planning attorney who does.