Parents of young children will inevitably have a conversation about mortality and its impact on the family. “Who would raise our kids? How would their expenses be met?” An initial estate plan would be set up to attempt to answer those questions. Each parent would execute a Last Will and Testament listing guardians and trustees for minor children surviving their parents.
Twenty-five years later, these same Wills, yellowed with age and heavily creased, are pushed across my desk during a consultation. I flip through the Wills picturing the rambunctious toddlers and tweens that were the subject of so many of the documents’ provisions. My first question is a two-parter: “How old are the kids now and how are they doing?”
Some of the parents’ answers are unprintable, but a representative response goes like this, “My eldest is 37 and a forensic accountant.”
Yes, it is time to update your estate plan.
Some pairings just stick in your head – “white wine and fish,” “daylight savings and changing the batteries in your smoke detectors” – to name two. “Birth of grandchild and new Will” has not caught on, yet. Neither has “newly retired, new Will.”
A good rule of thumb for reviewing an estate plan is to look at the photos on your phone. Is your life different than it was 10 years ago? Are there new family members? Do your children tower over you? If at least two answers to these questions are “yes,” and you do not remember your last lawyer visit, then it is time to make an estate planning appointment.
Even if your life feels the same and your surroundings have not materially changed, your goals may have taken a turn. Maybe it is wish fulfillment – traveling to all the places that graced the covers of waiting room magazines. Many times, stronger relationships are forged with grandchildren and adult children as an aging parent increasingly leans on those closest to them.
Helping family by subsidizing higher education costs and providing downpayments for homes becomes a primary goal. Setting up trusts and developing a three-dimensional plan with updated beneficiary forms are steps to reach some of these goals.
Concerns are goals’ grumpy neighbor. Jetting off to Rome is a fantastic goal. Long-term care cost management and Medicaid planning are serious concerns. Aging adults reacting to their peers’ health maladies and misfortunes will start to rethink their estate planning.
Protecting assets in the face of rising costs while leaving a solid legacy to loved ones is one path to take. A personal health crisis may require an immediate estate planning response. Bedrock planning documents such as Health Care Proxies and Powers of Attorney must be executed to insure continuity of care and financial stability.
Time fools us. The furniture looks the same. The view from your bedroom window looks the same. Your spouse or significant other still looks familiar. Everything else, just out of view, has changed dramatically. Making the necessary adjustments and adaptations is crucial to maintaining control. Updating your estate planning is one of those adjustments.
Alan D. Feller, Esq., is managing partner of The Feller Group, located at 625 Route 6, Mahopac. He can be reached at email@example.com.