October means Halloween will be here soon. I always loved going trick-or-treating as a kid, probably because of the candy…I still like candy as an adult, but for some reason people are not keen on giving candy to me now if I go out trick-or-treating on Halloween, as an adult. I suppose I am not as cute as a kid, even if I have a cool costume! I do understand that I have aged, so trick-or-treating is now more about going with my kids than just for me, but I still miss the candy!
Halloween also brings out the scary side of entertainment. I see the advertisements for 31 days of Halloween / Scary movies on different TV stations. I have never really liked scary movies…they are just not my thing. Perhaps I have seen enough scary things happen in real life, or I have been frightened badly enough by life that I don’t find it entertaining to watch scary movies, but I am familiar with some of the scary movies. The original “Halloween” horror movie came out in 1978. The movie introduced us to Michael Myers, who has become one of the more iconic movie killers, along with Freddy Kreuger from “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and Jason Vorhees from “Friday the 13th.” The movie “Halloween” was a horror / thriller movie when released in 1978. Several sequels and remakes have been made since the original 1978 movie was released, and I saw a version released in 2007 by director Rob Zombie. The 2007 version of “Halloween” was much scarier and darker than the original film. While I am not familiar with all the reasons for the changes, I understand audiences have changed over time, and that moviemaking also has changed.
Since this is an estate planning blog, and not just a movie blog, I will draw parallels between scary movies and estate planning. The original “Halloween” movie was created in 1978 as a horror movie, and it probably was a scary movie in 1978. Your estate plan will be carried out as stated in the original documents, even if those instructions are not current. However, if you watch the 1978 version of “Halloween” today, you will likely think the movie is more hokey, almost a parody of a horror film, so if you want to watch a scary movie, you need to see an updated version of the movie. Similarly, your estate plan may need to change over time, or the estate plan may end up not doing what you want. You don’t want your estate plan to be hokey, outdated, or incorrect. Just like I cannot go trick-or-treating for myself as an adult, your estate plan may be old enough, or not reflect your current life situation. You don’t want your estate plan to be as embarrassing as getting rejected for trick-or-treating as an adult. You want your estate plan to reflect what you currently need.
An Old Estate Plan Can Be Like an Old Scary Movie – Outdated and Not Effective
In the 1978 version of the movie “Halloween” the killer Michael Myers returns to his home town after years of being locked away in a psychiatric institution. The characters in the town are killed off and several now well-known horror tropes from horror movies are used: the young girls go off by themselves; the killer is seen, and then disappears; and just when you think the killer has been defeated and killed, the killer comes back to life to attack more people. These may have been newer concepts in 1978, and they may have been scary back then, but not so much now. The cinematography from 1978 and the older special effects certainly do not help the movie seem not so scary now, either. The movie is considered a classic horror movie now, but is certainly not as scary to a modern audience, as the different aspects of the original film are not nearly as scary as they once were.
Similarly, an estate plan set up many years ago may not be quite as effective in your current circumstances. I have seen estate plans set up 30 or 40 years ago that are mostly concerned with who will raise children who were young that long ago. Those same children are now grown and have families and children of their own. The concern of raising the child is gone and now as important to the current situation. The estate plan created that long ago did everything it was supposed to do all of those years ago, but it may be outdated and need different provisions or new functions. The old estate plan may be capable of getting your assets distributed to your heirs, but may do so in an inefficient, or incorrect way. Instead of being caught in the past, you will be much better served to bring the estate plan up to date.
An Old Estate Plan Can be Like an Old Scary Movie – More Silly than Scary
Of course, after watching an updated version of the “Halloween” movie, you may find yourself wondering why the old movie looks so bad and hokey. Part of the new movies are better special effects, potentially better acting and directing, and better quality of the film itself. The newer movie just looks better, and modern audiences seem to want more realism in a horror movie, so the modern movie looks better and is visually scarier. The original version of the movie has not changed, but since more modern audiences view the old movie as a thing of the past, it becomes hokey, almost as if it is a parody of the newer horror movies. The movie “Scary Movie” is a parody of many horror movies, but if you watch the original 1978 “Halloween” now, you may think it is also a parody. Whether going off by yourself into a dark house with a killer on the loose, or wondering how the killer seemingly disappeared, the horror movie making in 1978 leaves much to be desired.
When I review older estate plans with my clients, we sometimes laugh out loud at what was in the old estate plan. A gift to a long lost or former friend. A responsibility to someone now deceased. A person given the responsibility to raise a child…and the child is now an adult. All of these are examples of an older estate plan not reflecting what the client wants now. Oftentimes, my client will tell me the story of what they were thinking at the time. The reasoning is generally sound and made sense for when the estate plan was originally set up, but the incorrect gifts or incorrect person with responsibilities seems like a farce now. The older estate plan was good for when it was set up, but it needs to be updated to work for life circumstances now.
You don’t want your kids to get your estate plan after you die and find it to be so outdated that it seems a parody of itself. Not to switch movies on everyone, but my children watched “Beetlejuice” for the first time a few days ago. My children’s reaction was,, and I quote, “awful, terrible…the worst movie (they) had ever seen!” Not everybody likes “Beetlejuice,” but it probably did not seem as hokey and dated in 1988 as it does now. You don’t want your estate plan to be outdated and hokey like “Beetlejuice” or the original 1978 “Halloween.”
You Want Your Estate Plan to Reflect Your Current Wishes and Desires
As an adult I still do like to eat candy, but if I try to go out trick-or-treating as an adult, the people at the houses will give me a dirty look, not give me any candy, or potentially chase me away and call the police! It is simply not appropriate for me to go trick or treating as an adult. Instead, I take my children trick-or-treating. I stand back on the sidewalk and ensure they are having a good time, and that they are being safe. This is the more appropriate way for me to enjoy the Halloween holiday, and I enjoy watching my kids have fun. And, I do get to take a bit of a “parent candy tax” from their candy, so that is an extra bonus!
Similarly, your estate plan should reflect what is appropriate for your age and situation. A young family with young kids likely needs a will that dictates who will raise their young children if the parents are unable to do so. However it would not make sense for the young parents to set up an asset protection trust to minimize costs for long term care for the end of their lives at a young age. There may be other circumstances that dictate the need to create an asset protection trust, but if you are young and healthy, you likely do not need to protect your assets from long term care payments. Instead, you can start with the correct estate plan for you, and then change your estate plan as you need.
Make Your Estate Plan Happy, Not Scary
Whether it is watching a scary movie that is to your liking (or not, like me!), or getting candy on Halloween, you want to act appropriately for your age and circumstances. Since age and circumstances change over time, your estate plan needs to change also. Let your estate plan be helpful and useful to your loved ones…not a nightmare like Halloween can be!