Mark A. Bregman, Estates and Trusts Lawyer

 

Posts Tagged “will”

Planning for Incapacity

Planning for incapacity involves understanding how incapacity might occur and a commitment to having a current plan.

Often considered crucial only for end of life planning or for diminished capacity, dementia, or Alzheimer’s Disease, planning is most important if you become incapacitated due to an accident, injury, disease, or other medical condition.  As with all modern planning, the plan must be flexible enough so that if implemented tomorrow, it will be effective for many years.  A common mistake is assuming that the plan will not be implemented for years to come.

The key for all planning is give adequate thought to how you and your family will react in a variety of situations.

A discussion with your spouse and loved ones about how you want to be cared for is better than any document you can sign for assuring dignified treatment consistent with your values and intentions, but the document is what expresses those values and intentions.

Your health care power of attorney (HCPOA) should name at least a primary person, usually your spouse, and one or more secondary people who are aware of your personal opinions about how and when you want health care and medical procedures delivered to you.  My preference is that the document be open ended and give the broadest possible authority to the agent you name.  The Arizona statutory form may be sufficient for some people and can be viewed and downloaded by clicking on this link, Arizona standard form, which will take you to the Arizona Attorney General’s website.

In addition to the HCPOA, should decide what are your end of life instructions and incorporate them into a living will.  The statutory form can also be downloaded at the Attorney General’s website, but it is somewhat less useful and more confusing because of the many options allowed.  I recommend that you discuss your end of life intentions with your loved ones to be sure everyone likely to be involved knows how you feel about life and dying.  I use a very simple form that plainly and unambiguously declares your end of life intentions.

In addition to these important decisions, you should consider who you want to make decisions for you if you are unable to make them for yourself because of a mental defect which might be dementia, Alzheimer’s, alcoholism, or other form of diminished capacity.  It will be no surprise that I believe it is more important who you select to make the decision and the authority given them than trying to make specific declarations for someone to follow.  The greatest flexibility translates to the best possible decision making, but your values and intentions must be known to the person you name.  Although you might accomplish that within the document, it is best if you have discussions extending over a period of time to make your values and intentions clearly known.

After assuring that all your health and medical needs are addressed, you must consider who will act for you to pay your bills and make your financial decisions.  Often, those acts will be performed by your co-trustee if you have a spouse or by an adult child who is already named as a co-trustee, but if you don’t have a co-trustee, you need a good mechanism for determining when a successor trustee under a trust or an agent under a general durable power of attorney will be able to act.  If the persons named by you to act are absolutely trusted, the appointment may be immediately effective.  If you want the appointment to be effective only if you are incapacitated, then the document must provide that the power “springs” into being only if you are incapacitated and you must provide a method for determining when that event occurs.  A common mistake is naming another person, usually a son or daughter, as a co-owner of your accounts so they can write checks in an emergency.  Despite the convenience, that is often a mistake because of the potential for problems I will explain next time.

If you would like a more in depth discussion of your planning needs, please call me.  My number is (480)945-1931.

Mark Bregman

Posted in Estate Planning on January 24th, 2012 · Comments Off on Planning for Incapacity

The Continuing Series on The Complete Guide to Estate Planning

This is part 2 of a continuing series that began last week with an introductory syllabus.  Today’s post about the importance of planning while you are alive and well is the first of a 3 part explanation of lifetime planning describing the issues you must consider.  Part 2 will focus on emergency documents and the role players you will need to consider.  Part 3 will describe why you must do wealth transition planning while you are alive and well, even if you think you have a small estate.

It is often said that barriers to estate planning include no one likes to think about their own demise or that there will always be time later to plan. Many people mistakenly believe they don’t have enough money to plan or that in one form or another they are already “well planned” either because they believe their children will be able to “divvy” up their assets without a problem, they have a suitable Will, or their assets will all pass by operation of law through a beneficiary designation, right of survivorship, or otherwise.  It is not my intention to convince you that you need sophisticated planning, but I do believe many people underestimate the value of planning in several important regards.

First everyone should understand the emergency plans provided by state law.  If you have not intentionally created a plan by obtaining a financial power of attorney, a health care power, a living will, and a designated HIPAA recipients, your plan may go awry at the worst time.  Some folks believe joint accounts, PODs, and beneficiary designations are sufficient to transfer their assets in accordance with their intentions.  But you may be incapacitated as the result of an accident or an end of life illness when decisions must be made about your care and bills must continue to be paid.

A joint account may solve the problem of paying your bills, but who will make health care decisions for you if you are not able to make them for yourself and more importantly, who will the medical providers talk to about your condition?  State law provides a priority that includes your spouse and then your adult children and then others interested in your welfare to give informed medical consent, but it does not prioritize among persons of the same order, i.e., all children have an equal right to make the decisions for you.

There is no state law that will allow access to your financial accounts or permit you to be placed in a suitable facility without first going through a protracted and costly judicial proceeding if you do not have written directions signed and witnessed in accordance with law. Most importantly without a validly executed living will, your loved ones and medical providers will be uncertain of your end of life instructions.  As a consequence, you and your family may endure serious great discomfort and emotional distress.

In the last installment of this extended series, I will describe the havoc wreaked by do-it-yourselfers who try to solve these issues for themselves by finding a false sense of security in using “standard” forms found online or in your state’s statutes without proper legal supervision.

Next time I will describe the pertinent questions to ask yourself in preparing to meet with your attorney for this important process.  In the meantime, make your new year’s resolution to become “well planned” as the lasting gift you leave for your loved ones.  Call me if I can help.

 

Posted in Estate Planning on December 19th, 2011 · Comments Off on The Continuing Series on The Complete Guide to Estate Planning

Observations From the Trenches: Logical Estate Planning

Over my many years practicing law I have become a niche lawyer concentrating on estate planning. A growing part of my estate planning practice involves administration of trusts and estates. An inevitable part of trust or estate administration is resolving contested matters. Unhappily, a large number of those disputes become litigated matters instead of models of dispute resolution. Worse yet, if the patriarch or matriarch is still alive they are often heartbroken when their children cannot agree about basic issues facing the family.

As I enter my 32nd year of practicing law, I realize my clients value my common sense experience just as much as my legal technical expertise.

As a result I no longer tell people I “prepare wills and trusts” because I realize the will, trust, or power of attorney is only a tool. I seldom see disputes or problems with documents, but I often see disputes or problems because assets are not properly titled, beneficiary designations are not up to date, or the chosen role players are not adequately equipped. A better answer when I am asked what I do is to say that I am a problem solver; I am a family lawyer, I am an estate lawyer focusing on the affordable and efficient transition of wealth and values in an environment that protects loved ones from the problems that come with inheriting money.

I have become a bore to many of my clients, financial planners, and others because of my obsession of putting my clients’ financial affairs in order before they reach the point in time when they can no longer do it themselves because of death or diminished capacity or ability. It is not a simple task and I force everyone connected to the plan to stop making assumptions and actually prove to me that everything is in order.

I have banished from my office the idea that anyone can take an action that gets work off their desk without being able to explain how the step taken moves a problem one step closer to resolution. Each day, I tackle the most unpleasant problem on my desk first to be sure I can clear my head. Seldom is the least pleasant also the most difficult or most important; often it is the longest neglected or the most time critical.

To me, these thoughts have become the logical basis of my philosophy of helping clients. Taking to heart my 2 favorite mottos – “begin with the end in mind” (from Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) and my favorite Eisenhower quote – “plans are useless but planning is indispensable,” I clearly see the mission I must accomplish for my clients.

If you have not been in to see us for awhile, call us today to ensure that your family affairs are in order. We will work together until we have a high degree of confidence that your estate plan will work as intended in as many different scenarios as we can reasonably envision. If you are not yet a client and you would like to see this planning in action, call me and I will send a “Welcome Kit” to start you on our journey together.

Is Something Rotten in the Maricopa County Probate System?

I’ve been a practicing lawyer in Scottsdale for over 30 years and I have never witnessed a fire-storm like the rage that has engulfed the probate system in the past two years.

I’d like to bring some sanity to the story and suggest a sensible solution.

If you haven’t read the horrible stories or the outrage generated by the current probate system you can catch up on the horror here, at AZCentral.com.  The stories you will read here are indeed sensational and terrible stories.  Most of them involve lawyers who are personally known to me as caring competent lawyers, and who were tangled up in difficult cases or inadequate safeguards and procedures.  The cases feature over-reaching by professionals, inability of the courts to provide adequate supervision, and victims and their families who (for various reasons) simply failed to plan.

Before you read and join in the hysteria, let me give a little bit of background: the entire probate process is an extremely emotional and technical exercise, which requires interaction between laypeople and professionals, with a system that tries to be effective for all cases—from the very small to the very large.  Lapses in the conduct of the administration in which individual cases are conducted, the frail nature of the system, and its inability to provide adequate oversight show the system at its worst.

When a reporter tells a story of a client being charged several hundred dollars to cancel magazine subscriptions you aren’t necessarily getting the entire story. You may get a quick impression of the frustration and final outcome, but you don’t get to see how the story actually unfolded.  While the fiduciary may have thought one phone call would suffice, the actual process could entail a determination of whether another family member wanted the subscription, a flurry of messages and return calls, file reviews, etc.  Suddenly what should have been a simple quick solution has mushroomed into a nightmare.  Multiply by this each step in the probate process and it is truly a catastrophic handling of the case.

But if you are outraged by these stories (and there are plenty of reasons to be outraged,) remember that you have a choice.  There are many competent, ethical lawyers out there, and many equally competent and compassionate private fiduciaries; but even the best lawyers and fiduciaries can’t help if the clients have not adequately prepared for the end of life struggle.

There simply is no substitute for an adequate estate plan.  Readers must know the difference between having just a will or a trust, or creating a whole estate plan.

Prospective clients ask whether they need a Will or a trust and what is the difference.  The real question should be “what is an estate plan?”  Just having a Will or a trust and financial and health care powers of attorney is not a complete plan.  Today, most assets can pass to beneficiaries without going through probate, but they won’t necessarily pass to the people you want, the way you want, when you want, unless you have created a thoughtful plan.  And those assets may not even get to the transfer stage if consumed during the end of life process by expenses, private fiduciaries, and lawyers.  Then when the remaining assets do pass to beneficiaries, if the plan has not been carefully constructed the assets in an inadvertent plan will be unnecessarily exposed to the creditors and spendthrift habits of the beneficiaries.

Because a Will or a trust is just a tool, the emphasis in my practice is on The Plan and how those tools will be used.  Dwight D. Eisenhower said that while plans are useless, planning is indispensable. The important work is understanding the pitfalls likely to waylay assets in the end of life process, and empowering your family and professionals to address your plans in an ethical way, so that the end result can be as close to what you intend as possible.

If you want to avoid your legacy becoming a sorrowful story of drained assets and battling distant heirs, call me today and get started on the planning process.   If you know anyone who wants the peace of mind that they have a plan that works, I welcome referrals.

Confessions of an Estate Planner

Do I provide what my clients really want?

It has been suggested that estate planning lawyers rely too heavily on what they think clients want, providing services that are the easiest and most economical to give, rather than listening to what our clients really want.

As a result we give our clients hefty estate planning binders containing long documents covering every imaginable situation, and lengthy instructions that give our clients the impression that this work is too complicated for anyone other than professionals, so they need to come back to us to interpret the documents we prepared for them.  But as important as they are, revocable living trusts, pourover wills, financial durable general powers of attorney, health care powers of attorney, living wills and an assortment of related documents are all simply tools of the trade.  They should not be the end result.

I’ve met many people who tell me they have a great estate planning attorney, but I’ve met very few who can tell me why they think so.

I’ve been an attorney since 1979 and have concentrated on advanced estate planning techniques and strategies since 1998.  I have litigated contested probate cases that go awry when the planning fails.  And I have testified as an expert witness on trust matters that almost always arise because the lawyer did not adequately listen to the client’s needs and desires.  The listening failure often occurs because the lawyer failed to ask the right questions.  I’ve interviewed many clients, and I bring my unique experience to each client experience; yet I still find the most difficult part of my job is getting clients to express what they really want.

Right now I want to rededicate myself to creating estate plans that work.  To me, a good plan is one that accomplishes my client’s objectives in a cost efficient manner.  Cost efficiency means avoiding as much estate tax, administrative expenses, and legal fees as possible. It begins with the initial client meeting and isn’t finished until the assets are safely distributed as desired by my client.

I believe the process must begin by intimately knowing what my client owns and values, how each family dynamic works, and my client’s hopes, dreams, and aspirations for how these assets accumulated over a lifetime can be used to assure the comfort of my client, the future success of my client’s descendants, and the support of my client’s favorite causes.

Although a good clear set of documents is a necessary tool, establishing a strong ongoing relationship is even more important, and the linchpin to any successful plan. If you are relieved at “completing” the estate planning process merely because you sign your documents, but don’t identify your estate planning lawyer as among your most trusted advisors, I haven’t done my job.  If you sign a will or trust and then check it off your to do list to never think of it again, then I haven’t done my job.

However, if you are able to think about your estate plan without becoming melancholy, then I have done my job.  If you relish knowing you can call me whenever you have a problem, without fear of the “meter running,” then I have done my job.

These are a few of the things I believe go into a good relationship.  Now I’m interested in what you want in a good client attorney relationship.  I’m listening; please share your thoughts with me.  Your comments will help me be a better advisor for all of you.  I look forward to hearing from you online or in person.

Do You Know What You Don’t Know?

I recently came across a New York Times article that reminded me of an all too common experience I encounter in my estate planning practice. In the article author Ron Lieber recounts his experiment with 4 different Do-It-Yourself will drafting software programs and the outcome. Although Lieber goes through the pros and cons of each software program, his final conclusion is that while these programs may make you feel safe, they simply can’t give you the level of protection a trained attorney can—and in some cases these programs actually do more harm than good.

Unfortunately, I am often the bearer of this kind of bad news after the damage is done.  Lawyers consulted after a death cannot undo the damage done by an inadequate or incomplete estate plan, we can only do the necessary work to administer the estate and transfer the assets, hopefully, but not always, to the intended loved ones.  Unlike writing on a blank slate if nothing had been done, first, I must erase the unintelligible mess before I can begin.  This is generally expensive, meaning that the self help remedy defeats its own purpose by becoming more expensive than had the client consulted a competent lawyer in the first place.

The Attorney General of the state of Washington agrees with me.  In an announcement explaining the terms of a recent settlement with LegalZoom, the Attorney General expressed concern that the advertising and service offered was misleading because although it provided forms, it couldn’t provide the advice necessary for a consumer to determine if the forms were being completed properly.  The enforcement of its unauthorized practice of law rules is a major victory for unwary consumers and a lesson for us all.

Something happening in Washington may seem far away from our lives here in Arizona, but this is a serious issue that affects anybody considering an estate plan—or legal work of any kind!  I strongly urge you to look closer at the NYT’s article at the top of this post and then the announcement from the State of Washington.

It all comes back to the fact that you simply don’t know what you don’t know. Finding professional advisors whom you trust to help you determine your intent, to spend the time it takes to know you and your family, and to design an estate plan that will be efficient in terms of cost and effectiveness is of the utmost importance.

In the midst of designing an extraordinarily complex plan recently, I delivered drafts for review of multiple trusts and documents to the clients, one of whom honestly asked if they needed to hire someone to read and explain the words to them.  In the same week, a prospective probate client delivered a perfectly organized file consisting of 30 or more documents that had been prepared by a combination of document preparers and online do-it-yourself packages, all of which looked very good and which had taken a very long time to create and organize.  Unfortunately, all of those documents individually (and certainly the group as a whole) failed to achieve any of the primary purposes – it did not avoid a probate process, it did not transfer the assets to the intended persons, and it will not avoid legal fees.

What do these 2 seemingly disparate examples have in common?  Without knowing what they didn’t know, the client and the prospect were unlikely to make the right decision without relying on the expertise of a competent professional.

I believe estate planning is an important partnership.  If you teach me about your family, your finances, and your hopes, dreams, aspirations, and intentions, then I will teach you the law that must be applied to achieve the result you want to obtain.

The rest is just hard work.  Legal documents are tools to achieve a result.  Anyone can buy a hammer and saw at the local hardware store, but not everyone can build the house they want to live in.  You have spent a lifetime acquiring knowledge and skills and applying your talents to build a life; do you really want to take a chance not knowing what you don’t know?

Estate taxes, gifting, revocable and irrevocable trusts, heirs and beneficiaries, trustees and executors, estates, probate, Last Will and Testaments, power of attorneys, health care directives, and more are the language and stock in trade of good estate planning; using them correctly is difficult.  EVERY case is “fact specific” which means that your circumstances and intentions dictate how the resulting documents are drafted.  Form documents are like a broken clock that is right only twice a day.  Your family may pay a terrible price for the false sense of security of form documents.

Laws and common practice are complex and ever changing.  If you want an estate plan that works, call me.

A Brief Respite and Some Insight

Gardens at the La Posada Hotel

A few weeks ago I was able to check off an item from my Arizona historical tour “bucket list” when Sandy and I spent the night at the La Posada Hotel in Winslow Arizona.  A short block from where the hitchhiker in the Eagles’ classic Take It Easy saw the girl slow down in the flat bed Ford, this renovated Fred Harvey hotel (servicing the Santa Fe railroad that first opened in 1930 and closed in 1957 before being renovated beginning in 1997) is a delightful summer getaway if you are an Arizona history buff.  Fully refurbished in the original style with the fabulous Turquoise Room restaurant, interesting art, a plethora of old photographs, I thought about life in the thirties and how my descendants will think about life in 2010 around the turn of the next century.

We completed our day by visiting Bearizona, a drive thru wild animal park 80 miles to the west in Williams, Arizona.

During this trip I saw the old and the new stand in stark contrast, and my thoughts turned to how to structure estate plans that will also span the generations.  I wonder if La Posada’s architect, Mary Colter, was thinking about 2010 when she began designing this hotel in the 1920s.  How amazing to construct not a building but an idea; one that survived the Great Depression, the complete renovation into offices for the railroad, and an attempted demolition, only to stand once again among the crown jewels of Arizona history and the Americana of historic Route 66.

If I can help my clients create such a lasting legacy I will be proud.  The best part is that although it’s not easy to project what your descendants will be doing in 90 years, it is absolutely possible to create a plan that can last such a length of time, especially here in Arizona. Arizona’s rule against perpetuities now allows trusts to be created with a life span of 500 years!  Where were your ancestors in 1510?

Creating a trust plan that might last even 100 years may seem like a Herculean task, but it is the long range plan that gives shape to the next generation and the generation after that, and that will free us from the mundane and help us focus on our enduring values.  I think it will benefit our children to know that the money and values they inherit are not necessarily for them to spend, but for them to grow and pass on.  May each generation surpass the last, and each succeeding generation be better than the last in every way.

I look forward to helping you focus on value based planning.  If you are a current client and already have a long-term plan we’ve created together, I hope you will pass this along to someone else who you think might enjoy seeing the big picture.

Who Do You Trust?

My inspiration for today’s post comes from this recent article in the New York Times about debt relief firms, and a few questions I was asked by a prospective client.

As a former consumer debtor lawyer who represented many good families through bankruptcy proceedings in the 1980s and 1990s, I have an intense dislike for the predators preying on the most vulnerable members of our economy – those who have lost their jobs and their hope for the future, and who will try anything to avoid further soiling their already shattered self image.  The article describes the feeding frenzy of entrepreneurs taking advantage of this class of consumers desperate for a solution out of their current travails.  It brings to mind the late night television infomercials promising get rich quick schemes where the only ones getting rich are the ones selling the schemes.

What does all this have to do with estate planning?

A competent estate planner likes inquisitive clients, and especially likes clients who question credentials, experience, and pricing.  It helps the lawyer “sharpen the saw,” identify what is important to the client, and to remain relevant in an ever changing world.

Your estate planner should have good answers to all your questions including how much will it cost, how long will it take, why he or she should hire you, and what the client should do if you are not around when they need you.  If you are going to share personal and financial details with your lawyer you need to have confidence and trust in that person, and a good estate planner knows this.

A skeptical client should want to know about the lawyer sitting across the table from him or her before divulging personal information.  In today’s electronic age, a prospective client can a have a wealth of information before the meeting even begins: the lawyer’s web site and other public information such as Martindale Hubbell listing and rating, State Bar information, reported cases, and other commercial listings.  All of these let the prospective client garner a lot of information, but there is no substitute for asking questions and observing the lawyer’s verbal and non-verbal communication skills.  You must like and trust the lawyer in whom you will repose trust – trust in the lawyer’s skill, knowledge, experience, talent, honesty, and demeanor.  Hiring an estate planner is an important personal decision.

I recently had a conversation with a financial advisor. The purpose of the meeting in her words was for her to find out about my practice.  Near the end of the conversation I asked her to tell me some of her most common frustrations with the lawyers she worked with and how I could improve on their performance if we were to work together.  She was taken aback by my candor and thought talking about her relationships with other lawyers was improper, but I think bluntness is essential for good communication.  Unless I found out why she was looking for more lawyers to work with, I might repeat the same mistakes.  I ask all my clients who come to me with documents drawn by other local lawyers the same question – I want to find out up front if I can do better or if the best advice is to go back or keep looking.

A good estate plan is a living plan.  It is not documents.  A good estate plan is one that sparks a thoughtful discussion of ideas centered on the client’s values, assets, family, desires, and intentions.  An estate plan is a priceless investment and you deserve an estate planner that has spent the time to understand the importance of that process and can communicate ideas that address your innermost concerns in a manner that comforts you.

What does all this have to do with the debt relief firms that cost a lot of money but end up leaving their customers worse off than before they started?  Simply that it brought home to me that estate planners don’t have customers, they have clients, and an attorney-client relationship must be built on trust.

If you want an estate planner who welcomes your questions and takes into consideration your family and your values as well as your assets, call our firm.  As an additional incentive—mention this post to Lisa, my experienced client coordinator, and I will waive the customary $500.00 initial meeting fee.

Does Your Arizona Estate Planner Know Your Concerns and Your Family?

Is your estate planner a trusted advisor or a guerilla problem solver? Does he see you as a person or merely a bank account?

All too often lawyers or others billing themselves as “estate planners” perceive that you want the lowest cost, lowest maintenance product available so you can feel comforted that you have an estate plan.

This attitude has developed over time because many people believe an estate plan is a simple document to prevent the government from taking money that rightfully belongs to their children, when actually—if done correctly—it can be a comprehensive tool for passing on values and leaving a legacy for future generations.

I believe this is what estate planning has always been, but recently the advent of word processing and the internet has made it too easy for non-lawyers to peddle slick material by the ream, instead of providing you with personal attention and actual content and value.  The internet is great for disseminating information on a wide variety of topics, but it is also the domain of predators who will sell you a boiler plate documents without any input from you other than your names.  These documents may not even adhere to Arizona laws, and they come with voluminous instructions on what to do to make your plan effective.

If you have specialized legal training that qualifies you to understand what you are buying, how to make it work, and how to fix it if it doesn’t work, then the “estate plan in a box” may be for you; but if you have worked a lifetime gaining knowledge and experience in a different chosen field then you can appreciate the importance of using professionals to help you through what could be, if not the most important, certainly the longest lasting decision you will ever make.

Thus my leading question:  Does your estate planner really know you?

In my practice I begin with a list of 20 important concerns and ask you to prioritize them so that your estate plan reflects your personal intentions.

I continue with 18 specific questions about your family to help me become familiar with your unique situation.

And if the situation calls for it, I follow up with a detailed fact finder that allows you to describe your values and explain how you developed the attitudes and values you have and how to pass these along to your descendants.

I use the information I have gathered to weave a rich tapestry of an estate plan, with a trust that will be a tax efficient and purposeful.  My staff will work with you to re-title assets and confirm that all your assets are integrated into your plan so that the administration of your estate proceeds in an orderly and compassionate fashion.

I have more than 30 years experience as a lawyer and am well versed on estate tax planning, treatment of IRAs and other qualified retirement plans, and I study emerging strategies that may or may not use life insurance depending on your needs.  I can help sharpen your focus on how best to employ your resources to accomplish your hopes, dreams, and aspirations.

If you believe you are more than the money you have, we should meet.

Contact me today (or leave a comment with your e-mail address) and I will send you, without any further obligation, my list of 20 concerns, my 18 family questions, and my “You’re More Than Money” questionnaire.

Posted in Estate Planning on May 6th, 2010 · Comments Off on Does Your Arizona Estate Planner Know Your Concerns and Your Family?

It’s Going to Cost Me What?? (The Automobile Analogy to Updating Your Trust)

It happened again.  After telling the audience at a recent seminar that trusts really are living documents that need to be updated periodically, I was approached by several attendees afterward asking if I really meant their trust needed to be updated. After all, they only want to make minor changes; they don’t need anything big; their trust was created by a very good attorney.

That’s when I told them that any trust needs to be reviewed regularly, no matter how good the attorney or the trust. People change, lives change, and laws change—and any of these changes could affect your trust. In fact, I recommend that my own clients review their trusts annually and update their trusts every 2 to 3 years, if for no other reason than because I am a better attorney today than I was yesterday and can do more to protect them and their families.

People are often surprised when I tell them that the cost of updating their trust can be as much as they paid for their entire trust several years ago. They don’t understand why an “update” is so involved and expensive.  This reaction led me to an epiphany.

These folks understand “update” differently.  When a client hears “update,” they think minor modifications: changes to the people named, the trustees, or distributions. These “modifications” are like getting the oil changed and the tires rotated on your car.  They are items that need regular maintenance.

An “update”, however, is much more comprehensive; it includes changes that take into consideration:

  • Tax law changes,
  • State law and asset protection changes,
  • Changes affecting how the trustees manage and distribute your money,
  • Incorporation of new ideas,
  • Plugging holes in old legal thinking that plagued older documents, and
  • The most current thinking of over 1,000 lawyers

An “update” is trading in your worn out used car for a newer model that performs better.  The standard provisions have been re-engineered to perform better.  “Updating” your trust in my office means you are getting the best protection for your family, and your hopes, dreams, and aspirations.

As a trust based estate planner I aspire to show you the benefits of making modifications when necessary, and updating when the benefits of using modern language insure the result you desire and deserve.

If you are happy with your old car and just need an oil change or new tires, don’t buy a new car; but if a new car appeals to you, it will be a good value. Is the cost too much?  Absolutely not, but sticker shock is a powerful emotion.

Can I “sell” a Chevrolet for the same price as a Cadillac?  No, and I don’t want to; a Chevrolet might be right for your family and your budget – it will provide a reliable result if you have no special circumstances, hopes, or aspirations.  However, I don’t often advocate in favor of a Chevrolet because experience teaches me that in an alarming number of cases the Chevy will fail when you need it most—after you die.  No one wants an out of warranty repair bill.

My personal satisfaction and passion comes from making sure you understand the choice you are making.  As long as you see both the Chevrolet and the Cadillac for what they are and choose the one that provides you the best value, we will both be happy.

In my next post I’ll give some concrete examples describing why my constantly improving Cadillac trust is a better value than your current vintage Chevrolet trust.