I completed an estate plan for a client on December 30, 2021. This particular client had first contacted me over two years ago. When we first spoke, the client had a lot of questions on how to proceed. I answered the questions to the best of my ability, and then the client wanted to talk to their insurance agent, CPA, investment advisor, parents, and friends. I let them do so, and the more people they talked to the more different answers and approaches they encountered. After a couple of years of seeking one answer, this client finally contacted me and told me they just wanted to go ahead with the plan we had originally decided to do two years ago. I was excited to hear what they wanted to do, and that they wanted to move forward, since it had been so long, and I had not seen any indication they were going to get the estate plan done for years. I was pleasantly surprised when they told me to move forward.
Even as we signed the estate plan, the client was asking me about how certain things would transpire in the future, and how the estate plan would handle certain aspects of things. We talked about how the estate plan established the overall framework of what would happen with the client’s assets. We also discussed how if they wanted specific instructions for specific assets, then we would need to adjust the estate plan to include those specific plans. At that point, my client said something like, “I’m not ready for that now, but maybe in the future.” I agreed with the client, and we got the estate plan signed and completed, knowing that it might need to change in the future. We both seemed to know that it was better to have an estate plan in place, one that could be adjusted in the future.
If an estate plan is done correctly, then having something is really better than nothing.
Many times I see clients who are unable to do any estate plan because they fear it will not be exactly right or perfect. These folks want to make sure the estate plan covers every possible contingency and scenario that may come up. They let perfection get in the way of progress. Instead of getting an estate plan in place, and then changing, or updating the estate plan as life changed, they simply cannot get an estate plan set up. Sometimes they will express that everything needs to be covered, and they only want to do an estate plan once, so they get paralyzed by over analyzing everything. Sometimes they will express that they are not sure what will happen in the future, so they cannot plan until certain events have transpired. And sometimes they will simply not be able to make a decision on who will be in charge, or who will receive assets, or other important decisions that go into an estate plan. While all of these may be valid concerns, there rarely is a perfect time to set up an estate plan, so getting any properly executed and designed estate plan done is better than not doing an estate plan.
Seeking perfection in an estate plan can completely stop your ability to get an estate plan done. I am not saying that an estate plan should not be set up properly, or that mistakes are OK, but rather that the perfect estate plan that covers every potential life situation does not exist. There are far too many complexities to life than can all be accounted for in an estate plan. Instead, you want to set up an estate plan that covers as many situations as are practically possible.
I have had clients who want to give things to their children, or if not their children, then the grandchildren, or if not the grandchildren, then to siblings, or if no to siblings, then to nieces and nephews, but still fret about what happens to their assets if all of the people they named were gone. Apparently the four layers of beneficiaries was not enough for these clients. I often have a conversation about the practical limits, and how if their entire family is gone, then they can change the estate plan.
Updating an estate plan if all of your named beneficiaries are gone is always a good idea.
Updating an estate plan may cost some additional money in legal fees, but unless you are fully re-creating your estate plan, the fees for updates should be significantly less than the fees to originally set up your estate plan. This is especially true if you have already established your estate plan with an estate planning attorney. The estate planning attorney should have an electronic copy of your estate planning documents, so those should be relatively easy to modify to accommodate the changes you need to make.
Setting Up an Estate Plan May Not Be Just a One Time Process
When you set up your estate plan, you may tend to think that it is a one time process, and that you will never need to change or update your estate plan. I understand why you may think this way, but it may not be true. There are many reasons your estate plan may need to change.
You may set up an estate plan when you have young children, and when those children are grown, you likely will not need to name a guardian to raise your adult children. You may set up an estate plan when you are young, and then that estate plan will not reflect what you want as a retired person. Or, you may have children that take a different life path than you expect, and you need to account for the different life decisions they may have made. No matter what the reason, if your estate plan needs to change, you can make the changes. It is still better to have an estate plan in place, and make changes, or adjustments, as necessary, than to not have an estate plan at all.
You Do Need to Make Your Own Choices
When you set up your estate plan, there are certain choices that you need to make for yourselves. I cannot choose who will get your assets, and I do not know who you would trust to carry out your plans. Those are choices you need to make for yourselves. I am often asked to decide these things for people, and I tend to respond that my children would be happy to take their assets, if they do not want to give the assets to anyone else. Usually I identify this strategy as a “bad idea” and we all laugh about the suggestion. I then can ask questions that help you think about who you want to have named as your beneficiaries, and who you want to be in charge.
I cannot tell you the number of times I am asked, “What do most people do?” or “What is the normal way?” The correct answer is that there is not really a most common way, or a normal way, as every situation is unique. To properly distribute your assets as you wish, I need to know what you want and desire. Only when I understand what you want, can I properly help you get your estate plan set up. I don’t want to guess at what you want, or to make those decisions for you, but I want to set up a plan that reflects your wishes and desires.
Using and Experienced Estate Planning Attorney Can Help
While I may not be able to make decisions for you concerning what you want, you may not be able to simply tell me what you want as soon as we meet, either. Instead, I have a series of questions I ask that can help you put into words what you want. We can organize your thoughts and desires to get to where we can set up an estate plan that reflects what you want. The estate plan will reflect your desires, and still be done in a timely, efficient, and cost effective manner. You don’t need to get bogged down in all the what ifs, and you can get your estate plan done. Let me help you get your estate plan done. You can make an appointment by going here.