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Is Your Legacy on Autopilot?

By: Atty. Marcus Collins

Key Takeaways:

  • Estate plans need to be reviewed regularly to keep them up-to-date. The law can change, your personal circumstances can change, and your goals can change. A regularly reviewed plan is more likely to meet your needs in the event of your death.
  • There are three main reasons to review your estate plan: changes in the law, changes in your personal life, and changes in your experience or your attorney’s experience.
  • Every plan (and estate planning client) needs a formal updating process in place. This could involve getting a review report from your estate planning attorney and scheduling regular meetings to discuss any necessary changes.

Is it really that important to regularly review your estate plan? I hope by the time you finish this article, your answer will be a resounding, “Yes!”

Our Formal Maintenance Approach

An integral part of what we do at the Estate Planning Center—plans that work for people who care—is what we call “Step Two,” or the “Maintenance Program.” This is a formal updating process that helps our clients ensure their plan continues to achieve their goals over time and doesn’t grow stale. The Maintenance Program is designed to keep both the client and the client’s plan up to date as the legal environment and the circumstances the plan is designed to address change.

Three Kinds of Changes

There are essentially three kinds of changes any estate plan must accommodate for in order to continue to achieve the client’s ideal outcomes. First, there are the changes in the legal environment. Second, there are changes to the client’s personal life. Finally, there are changes in experience (both yours and your attorneys’).

The legal environment changes. Your attorneys’ experience grows over time. (If your attorney’s experience isn’t growing, consider finding a new attorney!) Innumerable and unpredictable changes could be made to the tax law, the law on trusts and estates, regulations, etc. Changes to the law are often the first thing people think of as being a reason to “update the plan.” This is likely why the Client Update Program™ (“CUP” for short) is the most apparent part of the Maintenance Program. In explaining the Maintenance Program in a nutshell, we routinely tell our clients, “We’ll drag you back in every two years to make legal changes, whether you have personal changes or not.” The legal changes are important–and if your attorney doesn’t have a formal updating program, again, it might be time to consider finding a new attorney. But the legal changes aren’t the focus of this article.

Along with the changes to the law, everyone experiences personal changes. You might gain in-laws. Your in-laws might become outlaws. A child or grandchild might lose their way. Your finances might change. Maybe the grandchild who was going to be your successor on the farm decided to walk away. These are all changes in your personal life that would greatly impact your plan and need to be addressed.

Have a Tool to Regularly Review

At the Estate Planning Center, our clients receive a review report for their estate plan regularly. This report tells you the people involved in the various roles in your plan (who has what jobs), the people who will inherit from you, what they will inherit, how they will inherit it, etc. It shows you your wishes, on paper, in a nutshell.

This report can be reviewed, completed, and sent in to us at any time. For us, this triggers an amendment process for our clients. You should never put off an amendment to your estate plan! Putting off amendments means risking your plan not achieving all of your goals at death.

If you would like to learn more about our formal updating process, our maintenance program, and why these are essential pieces to a plan that works, consider registering for one of our complimentary, introductory workshops.

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