Through Facebook, I enjoyed reading stories about military heroes this past week, particularly those who gave their last full measure of devotion for their friends, family, for us all. Many of us in the Midwest also use this weekend to reminisce and thank God for our family members who helped pave the road we travel today.
Those of us still living have an opportunity to show our love and care for our families too. Perhaps Memorial Day each year might be a good mile marker to remind us to get or keep our financial and legal house in order with regard to our estate planning. Many people take a major trip during the summertime and I know that causes many last minute lawyer visits in order to have a will or a codicil prepared.
Although financial advisors help clients think about various aspects of leaving their financial and physical stuff, I describe myself as a recovering attorney. I can’t seem to give up my law license so I still use my knowledge, but always refer to the clients’ attorney to prepare the wills or trusts.
Once in a great while, I still am required to confirm as a witness for the Probate Court a will executed 35 or more years ago. This is one of the primary points of this essay. Was there not a major change that occurred during those decades?
Sure, a well drafted document can be flexible enough to change with changing family circumstances over time, especially with respect to additional children, born or adopted. Certainly most beneficiary clauses are designed with an alternative in case of the death of one of the primary beneficiaries.
But over time, our assets tend to change. That may provide plenty of reason to amend a trust or execute a codicil to your will. (Codicil is a Latin derived word that otherwise means amendment, but specifically applies to wills.)
For example, if you have bought or inherited a piece of real estate in a state other than your home, owning it in a Trust makes a lot of sense because you do not want to chance a probate proceeding in two states. If you executed a general will back when the children were minors 25 years ago (all to spouse if he or she survives me and remainder divided equally between the children), it could be wise to set up special provisions for their inheritance because you now know one of them could not manage money well if his very life depended upon it.
If you are being charitable with part of what you will leave behind, have your favorite causes changed over the years? Has an organization veered from the direction you liked so well then? Like many important tasks, it is too easy to be awaiting the Round Tuit before you schedule the appointment with your attorney.
So you might want to join me in making this a Memorial Day resolution. I know we need to change some things in our own estate plan. I have not made it a high enough priority until now. It is time to get this done this summer. I am now a beneficiary of my parents’ plans. I have personally witnessed how the right documents can make the winding up process for a family easier or more difficult.
I love my wife and my children and grandchildren. We all have enough issues as it is. I don’t want to give any of them more reasons to think unkindly of me, such as being a pain in the neck even after I’m gone. I’m still working on my other flaws too, but this project is more easily remedied. Make the call.
(All advice is general in nature, not intended to be specific. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.)