The reason you create an estate plan is to make sure that your family is taken care of upon your death or incapacity, and that the assets you own when you die are distributed exactly the way you intend. So we need to create a plan today that will take care of the family at an unknown time in the future. Easy, right? It's easy only if you know when you are going to die, what the law will be at that time, what assets you will own and their value at the time of your death, and what the circumstances of your family members will be. No matter how flexible the plan is, a "one and done" estate plan cannot address all the changes and uncertainties that are a natural part of life. Regular reviews of the plan and the assets aligned with the plan should be a part of your lifetime planning. But we know that our fast-paced, busy lives interfere with the scheduling of periodic reviews of your estate plan.
We believe that an ongoing representation designed to align the assets with the estate plan, verify that the financial institutions have aligned the assets correctly, and track changes in assets, laws, and your life is the process necessary to take care of your family based on the realities in place at the time you die. We understand that most clients are looking for a relationship with the professionals they trust. Yes, you need estate planning documents, but the most important thing in estate planning is asset ownership. How you own your assets during your life, who you name as beneficiaries, and the language in your business and corporate agreements determine whether the courts will be involved at the time of your death, whether you will minimize taxes and costs, and whether your family is taken care of the way you want.
For example, most families own life insurance and name their spouse and then their children as beneficiaries. No matter what the will or trust says, when the insured person dies and the spouse is already dead, the life insurance company must pay the children. But what if the children are young, or irresponsible, or have marital difficulties? Well, the proceeds may end up being squandered by the irresponsible, used by someone supposedly caring for the young children, or split up in a divorce proceeding.
This is why instructions included in a will or trust can protect your child only if the asset ownership is "aligned," or designated to pass in a manner controlled by a will or trust containing protective language. Unfortunately, we often see that assets have not been transferred into the trust or aligned with the estate planning documents. Therefore, the plans fail to work as intended. So how can we solve this problem? We must ensure that your assets are aligned with your estate plan and that your financial institutions have titled your property appropriately. Since each financial institution, bank, life insurance company, and retirement plan administrator his its own particular forms, procedures, and idiosyncrasies, great attention must be paid to the alignment process. But it often just gets too frustrating and complicated chasing down the correct forms, trying to get responses from different institutions, and dealing with computerized answering services. If the attorney or a third party does the work, the client is often charged by the hour rather than for results.
Our belief is that aligning the assets with the estate plan (typically called "funding" or "re-titling"), verifying the institutions have titled the assets properly, and then tracking changes in asset ownership, value, and type over time is essential to making sure your estate plan works and your family is taken care of. Our lifetime planning and ongoing representation is based on obtaining the results our clients want - taking care of their family when it really matters.