Estate Planning can initially be an intensive process of gathering personal and financial documents, deliberating over who should play key decision-making roles as executor, trustee, agent, guardian of minors and finally making time to sign the documents.
Whew! Finished at last, and everything is good to go for the next twenty years.The sense of comfort that there is a plan in place can be misleading. There’s a natural reluctance to re-engage in the estate planning process unless clearly necessitated by a really major life event, such as divorce or death of a spouse. But many other events should trigger the need to update – a desire to change a key decision-maker for whatever reason, birth of additional children, acquisition or sale of a business.
In many cases, it is someone’s advisor who is the catalyst to point out the desirability of updating estate planning documents. It may be the tax advisor, the financial planner or the insurance broker, who is dealing with the client’s personal circumstances, and recommends making an appointment with the estate planning attorney. These are trusted advisors who know all the personal details of the client’s life, and recognize the need to update the estate planning documents.
The change in circumstance can result in an estate plan that is out-of-date, or not sufficiently detailed to cover all the contingencies. It may have made sense to name both children to act together as co-executors or co-trustees, when they were young adults. But if serious disagreements or, worse, estrangement, has developed between them, the estate plan courts disaster and likely competing lawsuits that could eat up the majority of the inheritance.
It may be difficult to broach the subject with family members, anticipating that just raising the subject will provoke additional hostility. It is important to handle the situation properly, and enlisting the assistance of one of the advisors may be the way to handle it. Most advisors schedule periodic meetings with their clients, and that may be the right opportunity to raise the issues causing concern to the estate plan.
Ultimately, most people engage in estate planning because they want their survivors and heirs to have as little work to do to achieve the distribution of their worldly goods. Extend that to ensuring that there are as few conflicts caused by the estate plan, and you’ve got the “why” of updating an estate plan.