In preparing a Will, a Trust or a Power of Attorney, the intent is always that these documents will last a very long time. Estate planning documents rarely have a date when they expire or would absolutely need to be revised or replaced. However, in the following instances, revision may be important or even necessary:
(1) life changes such as marriage, divorce, or birth/adoption
(2) major changes in property/assets
(3) changed goals, preferences or wishes
(4) moving to another state
(5) the passage of a long period of time
Determining what changes may be needed is always a personalized process and requires detailed attention. I recommend meeting every 3-5 years to review and discuss planning. For existing clients, this regular follow up is always without any charge or fee.
Estate planning for a child or loved on who has a significant developmental, physical or mental disability can be particularly challenging and is also particularly important. Many of the priorities, goals and questions are no different than any other situation: How can I be sure that they are taken care of? If they are young or unable to manage their own affairs, who should be given responsibility to help them? How can I protect them from foreseeable (or unforeseeable) problems or challenges? However, while these sorts of goals and questions are common among various situations, there are often other more unique questions: How will a gift impact eligibility for Medicaid or other public benefits? How can I be sure that someone is looking out for their best interests? How can I plan for a potential change in circumstances or needs?
Fortunately, there are some unique estate planning tools that can be used to address these questions and effectively plan for the well-being of any individual. A trust is commonly an effective tool to provide for the needs of another. In some contexts, a “special needs” or “supplemental needs” trust can be a particularly effective tool to help provide for an individual who is also eligible for public benefits or similar financial assistance. Ultimately, each individual and each situation is quite unique and requires an experienced and skilled lawyer to help guide you through the right solutions.
Having some type of trust-centered planning is important whenever young (or not so young) children are involved. As every parent understands, the cost and effort to raise children is tremendous. Of course, children are not self-reliant or self-supportive, so providing for their needs often becomes a central component of a parent’s estate plan. In the event of a parent’s death (or incapacity) there must be in place a means of providing for the needs of their children—such as daily maintenance, clothing, housing, health care, educational and recreational expenses. Appropriate planning often involves a revocable living trust or a testamentary trust, as each of these place a designated trustee in charge of making important financial decisions and meeting the needs of child-rearing. With a trust in place, the designated trustee can be directed (and is thus legally bound) to use trust assets for the children and within the parameters set forth by the written trust document. This type of planning protects the child by assuring that their needs are met but also protects the trust assets from misuse (or over use) by the child.
As I meet with clients, I often discover a misconception about what a Will accomplishes. “If I have a Will in place, then I can avoid probate, correct?” is the sort of question and assumption I frequently encounter. While a Will serves several important functions and is a key component of most estate planning, it does not avoid probate. In fact, the only way that a Will is utilized is through the probate court. It is an effective and important tool—but will NOT keep your property out of probate. Fortunately, there are several tools and strategies that can indeed streamline your estate planning, avoid probate and help you accomplish your planning goals. These often include a trust, a beneficiary deed or other strategies, but of course every individual and every situation is different and requires individualized attention and planning.