November 6, 2020 is “National Love Your Lawyer Day,” which started in 2001 as a way to celebrate lawyers for their positive contributions and encourage the public to view lawyers in a more favorable light. I am dedicated to improving the public’s perception of lawyers by offering family-centered legal services specifically tailored to provide my clients with the kind of love, attention, and trust I would want for my own loved ones.
If you are like most people, you probably think that estate planning is just one more task to check off your life’s endless “to-do” list.
You may shop around and find a lawyer to create planning documents for you, or you might try creating your own DIY plan using online documents. Then, you put those documents into a drawer, mentally check estate planning off your to-do list, and forget about them.
The problem is, estate planning is not a one-and-done type of deal.
In fact, if it is not regularly updated when your assets, family situation, and the laws change, your plan will be worthless. What’s more, failing to update your plan can create its own set of problems that can leave your family worse off than if you had never created a plan at all.
The following true story illustrates the consequences of not updating your plan, and it happened to the founder and CEO of New Law Business Model, Ali Katz. Her experience, among the countless others I have seen or learned about, is one of the leading catalysts to creating my own family-centered model of estate planning.
A game-changing realization
When Ali was in law school, her father-in-law died. He had done his estate planning—or at least thought he had. He paid a Florida law firm roughly $3,000 to prepare an estate plan for him, so his family would not be stuck dealing with the hassles and expense of probate court or drawn into needless conflict with his ex-wife.
And yet, after his death, that is exactly what happened. His family was forced to go to court in order to claim assets that were supposed to pass directly to them. And on top of that, they had to deal with his ex-wife and her attorneys in the process.
Ali could not understand it. If her father-in-law paid $3,000 for an estate plan, why were his loved ones dealing with the court and his ex-wife? It turned out that not only had his planning documents not been updated, but his assets were not even properly titled.
Ali’s father-in-law created a trust, so that when he died, his assets would pass directly to his family, and they would not have to endure probate. But, some of his assets had never been transferred into the name of his trust from the beginning. Since there was no updated inventory of his assets, there was no way for his family to even confirm everything he had when he died. To this day, one of his accounts is still stuck in the Florida Department of Unclaimed Property.
Ali thought for sure this must be malpractice, but after working for one of the best law firms in the country and interviewing other top estate-planning lawyers across the country, she confirmed what happened to her father-in-law was not malpractice at all. In fact, it was common practice.
Will your plan work when your family needs it?
I hear similar stories from my clients all the time. Outside of not creating any plan at all, one of the most common planning mistakes I encounter is when I get called by the loved ones of someone who has become incapacitated or died with a plan that no longer works. Yet, by that point, it is too late, and the loved ones left behind are forced to deal with the aftermath.
Therefore, I recommend you review your plan annually to make sure it is up to date, and immediately amend your plan following events like divorce, deaths, births, and inheritances. This is so important, I have created proprietary systems designed to ensure these updates are made for all of my clients, so you do not need to worry about whether you have overlooked anything as your family, the law, and your assets change over time. Moreover, I encourage you to call me prior to purchasing any new assets, such as a house, or obtaining new life insurance, opening a retirement plan, and making any new investments.
From the outset, I tell all of my clients that my goal is to build a familial relationship with them.
Because your plan is designed to protect and provide for your loved ones in the event of your death or incapacity, I am not here to serve only you—I am here to serve your entire family. I take the time to get to know your family members and include them in the planning process, so everyone affected by your plan is well-aware of what your latest planning strategies are and why you made the choices you did.
Unfortunately, many estate planning firms do not engage with the whole family when creating estate plans, leaving the spouse and other loved ones largely out of the loop. I believe the planning process works best when all of your loved ones are educated and engaged. I can even facilitate regular family meetings to keep everyone up-to-date.
Built-in systems to keep your plan current
My legal services are designed to make estate planning as streamlined and worry-free as possible for both you and your family. Unlike many estate planning lawyers, I do not just create legal documents and put the onus on you to ensure they stay updated and function as intended—I take care of that on my end.
For example, my built-in systems and processes are intended to prevent two of the biggest mistakes made by many estate planning lawyers: 1) not keeping client’s assets properly inventoried, and 2) not properly titling assets held by their trust.
Maintaining a regularly updated inventory of all your assets is one of the most vital parts of keeping your plan current. I will not only help you create a comprehensive asset inventory; I will make sure the inventory stays consistently updated throughout your lifetime. In fact, I have even created a unique (and totally FREE) tool called a Personal Resource Map to help you get the inventory process started right now, by yourself, without the need for a lawyer.
To learn more, visit my website and create a detailed inventory of everything you own to ensure your loved one’s know what you have, where it is, and how to access it if something happens to you. From there, meet with me to incorporate your inventory into a comprehensive set of planning strategies that I will keep updated throughout your lifetime.
As to properly titling assets held by a trust, when you create a trust, it is not enough to list the assets you want it to cover. You have to transfer the legal title of certain assets—real estate, bank accounts, securities, brokerage accounts—to the trust, known as “funding” the trust, in order for them to be disbursed properly.
While most lawyers will create a trust for you, few will ensure your assets are properly funded. I will not only make sure your assets are properly titled when you initially create your trust, I will also ensure that any new assets you acquire over the course of your life are inventoried and properly funded to your trust. This will keep your assets from being lost, as well as prevent your family from being inadvertently forced into court because your plan was never fully completed.
For the love of your family
When I started my own law firm, I did so with the intention and commitment to ensure my clients’ plans would work when their families needed it and I created a service model built around that mission.
My estate planning services go far beyond simply creating documents and then never seeing you again. I strive to develop a familial relationship with you and your family that lasts not only for your lifetime, but for the lifetime of your children and their children – if that is your wish.
I will support you in not only creating a plan that keeps your family out of court and out of conflict in the event of your death or incapacity, but that will also ensure your plan is regularly updated to make certain that it works and is there for your family when you cannot be.