A couple of weeks ago my wife’s phone battery stopped holding a charge. She would charge the phone overnight, and start using it the next day, but within an hour, the phone was down to 30% of its battery life. Given the nature of modern society, and how it can be difficult to function without a working cell phone, this seemed like a situation that needed to be remedied. At first, my wife took her phone to the mobile phone store, and the employee tried to remove, or disable, many applications that run in the
background, sucking battery life as they do so. The thinking was that if the phone had less work to do, then the power could last for more critical functions, like making and receiving phone calls. However that fix did not work, and after a couple of days trying things this way, the phone was still losing power quickly.
At that point, we thought that it would be a good idea to get new phones, so off to the mobile phone store we went. How does this relate to estate planning? I see parallels between needing new phones and updating your estate plan, why that takes time, and how you should pick the right phone and estate plan for you.
When Do I Need a New Phone? When Do I Need a New Estate Plan?
Cell phones are not designed to last forever. In fact, most cell phones are designed to wear out and stop working approximately two – four years after the phone is purchased. This just happen to be right about when the phone is paid off, or a phone service contract is due for renewal. So, getting a new cell phone is built into the plan for cell phones. This is partially to keep up with new technology, and partially so that companies that manufacture cell phones can stay in business. Technology changes over time, so the phone needs to be able to keep up. Also, a cell phone manufacturer would be out of business if everyone in the world had a cell phone that lasted a long time, like 10 – 15 years. If phones lasted that long, nobody would be left to purchase a phone…they would all have a working phone, so why buy a new one? So, a phone needs to be updated on a regular basis.
Just like a phone wears out and needs to be updated, an estate plan should also be updated, even though it is designed not to wear out. An estate plan does not have a built in expiration date, and even a very old estate plan will still be valid if the estate plan is not revoked, amended, or changed. I sometimes have people who tell me that they had a will written over 30 years ago, and conclude the will cannot be valid because it is so old. I tell them that a will that old is probably still valid, unless it has been replaced. However, as life circumstances change, you want to update your estate plan to reflect new life circumstances. Although there is no exact time frame for updating your estate plan, you can find some good guidance for when to update your estate plan here.
Updating Your Phone Takes Time and Effort, as Does Updating Your Estate Plan
We spent 2 or 3 hours at the phone store updating our phones. It really did not take that long to purchase the new phone, but we needed to transfer all of our contacts, pictures, text messages, applications, and all the other information on our old phones to our new phones. The process took 45 minutes with my phone, and I had to check the various applications and file folders on the phone to make sure everything transferred over to the new phone. Even with all of my checking, I had a couple of notes on my phone that did not transfer over, so I lost a little bit of data there, but it was nothing I could not recreate on the new phone. Ironically, cell phones have contributed to the concept that we want things instantly in our world, so the irony of the fact that this took a fair amount of time was not lost on me. I wanted to keep the data and the good things from my old phone, but have newer, better technology.
Similarly, it takes time to update an estate plan. Despite my best efforts, I cannot prepare legal documents without taking time…this may seem obvious, but you would be surprised how often people think I can to things instantaneously!
Oftentimes, people who want me to update their estate plan will want me to just use what they have and make it work for what they want. Sometimes I am able to do that. I can take the estate plan, prepare amendments to just a few sections that need to be updated, and they are ready to go. Other times, trying to use an existing estate plan would not work as well. I have clients who want to use a will written 30 years ago as a starting point, before they had all of their kids, and no grandkids. Now they want to set up an educational fund for the grandkids while still providing for their children…all within the confines of what was done 30 years ago.
In this case, it is probably less work to start from scratch on their estate plan, as it would be less work to create a new plan, then try to fit it into an outdated and outmoded way of setting up the estate plan. With any new estate plan, we will want to preserve the important data, like who should get your assets and who to use as a beneficiary – and get assets to the kids, but the best way to accomplish that is through a new estate plan, or an updated one, just like an updated phone.
All Updated Phones are NOT the Same, and Neither are all Updated Estate Plans
We had a variety of phones to choose from when updating our cell phones. We could choose between an iPhone, Android models, or even something like an older, “dumb phone.” All of these phones would have served our purpose of getting a phone with better battery life, but we had more important requirements to fulfill. I use my cell phone to keep track of my schedule, check email, and make business calls. My wife is fond of Facebook, texting to keep up on friends and activities, and other things. Certainly I use Facebook too, but my wife communicates with many people that way. We picked a phone that fit our wants, while still filling the basic needs we had.
Similarly, when you create your estate plan, you want it to fulfill the basic elements of an estate plan and meet the basic requirements. However, the basic requirements for an estate plan may not capture what you want. Your wants and desires should be clearly laid out and correctly reflected in your estate plan. Just like there is a large variety of cell phones, and not all of them do exactly what you want, you should choose the right method to get the right estate plan for you.
Find the Right Phone for You, and Find the Right Estate Plan, Too!
We asked questions of the workers at the workers at the cell phone store, and chose the right phone for us. If it is time for you to update your estate plan, or to pick an estate plan, you should ask questions of an estate planning attorney, and the attorney may have some questions for you in return. You can set up an appointment to talk to an estate planning attorney by going here.