Keeping Your Plan Current
The Estate Planning Center is committed to making sure our clients' estate plans work! This means going beyond just "writing a will" or writing a trust" because most clients don't actually use their plans for many years after they are written ... they don't die right away! The LifeSpan Three Step Strategy (sometimes called "TLC Planning" in our publications) requires that you maintain your plan during that long--we hope--period between writing your plan and having it "work" the way you intend. To keep the plan up-to-date, you need a systematic updating process.
In our engagement agreements with our clients The Estate Planning Center agrees to provides a wide range of estate plan maintenance and updating services. Exactly how do we deliver these services for a modest annual retainer fee, keeping the attorney-client relationship alive, and assuring the plans will work as expected?
First, we spend considerable time with each client identifying exactly what they own and how they own it, and then prepare all forms necessary to assure their assets are properly titled to follow the instructions in their estate plan. One of our service team members is employed strictly for that purpose …getting clients’ assets correctly titled. Having us on retainer for the year as their assets change allows clients to call with any question they have about titling of assets, especially as they buy, sell, trade, invest, etc. Then, as an additional check, at least once each year we send each client a list of their assets according to our records, and remind them to review and update it and allow us to help them properly title any new or different assets they’ve acquired.
Much of what is needed is continuing education; several of our maintenance services are designed as educational workshops. In order to keep clients in tune with their planning and with the changing legal environment in which we all live, we hold an "Annual Family Reunion" workshop to review important estate planning issues, to educate extended family members (the more family members who come, the better!) and provide a sort of "State of the Firm" address: where we are and where we're headed; new service team members; new locations; and anything we believe will be of concern or interest to clients as a whole. The AFR workshop's are our biggest educational events of the year, because every client is expected to attend one!
In order to educate family members or other helpers who clients have appointed as trustees, power of attorney agents, executors, and so forth, we provide the workshop called "Trustees’ Nuts 'N Bolts" at least twice per year. Clients bring their helpers to the workshop to prepare them for the role that they will have to assume some day.
The law is constantly evolving and we are constantly finding more innovative ways to deal with issues. A substantial part of every plan is the "legalese" necessary to carry out the administration of a trust, to navigate complex tax laws, and to protect assets from outside predators. Also, we find new ideas to bring back to clients that might have universal appeal. In order to explain the recommended legal changes and the new ideas to our clients, we schedule a "Client Update Program" (aka "CUP" - six different times and at three locations in 2003) for clients to attend at least biennially. During the workshop each client receives the recommended changes to update their plan documents. Since some clients have simple personal objectives that change (examples of "simple" changes would include: the age at which a child can receive control of his or her inheritance, naming different trustees or power of attorney agents, or giving different amounts to heirs or charities) we give each client a checklist at least a week before the CUP workshop and ask them to identify any personal changes they want to make, so we can include those changes in their updated legal documents. At the end of the CUP, each client's updated documents are signed. For those who have additional issues they want addressed, they turn in a "To Do" list and schedule an appointment, if needed, to come to our office to sign any additional documents.
Occasionally a client will need a "counselling oriented" change … they need to truly revisit their original plan design and do some very different things altogether. This might require an extra appointment with the attorney, a "Personal Counselling Review" to help them sort out goals and objectives again and re-write their plan. This "counselling-oriented" updating is available for flat, predictable fees.
We remind clients before they come to a Client Update Program to review and consider the applicability of the instructions in their plan. Again (unless it is a major change that requires counselling) making the necessary changes in their plan documents is included in the annual retainer fee.
Our service system continues to evolve. Perhaps soon we will be able to securely deliver document updates via the internet. Maybe video conferencing will become possible and economical. We are looking into recorded teleconferences to help educate clients who miss the workshops. Changes in the law might make it important to have document updates more often than annually. In some years there may not be any "standard" legal changes needed.
Whatever services are needed to deliver our clients plans that work … that is what we will do! Join our family of clients if you would like to enjoy the peace of mind that comes from knowing that your plan will be ready when it is needed!