A good estate plan covers contingencies, takes control of the future, and involves clear communication. This post is the first in a three-part series that will discuss these three “c”s of estate planning.
Do-it-yourself and store-bought wills often lack perspective and foresight. This happens either though the simplistic design of such documents, or the inexperience of the person using a template. We all make assumptions about the future, and the challenge of estate planning is to ferret out those assumptions, and create a plan that works even when those assumptions fail.
Assuming a full life
A recent example of this failure of the do-it-yourself will variety happened to a mother who made a will, leaving everything outright to her infant son. When she and her young son were tragically killed in a car accident, everything went to the child’s convicted drug dealer father instead of the mother’s family. Not realizing who the child’s heir would be (the child’s natural father) left this mother’s family with two wrongful death suits, and a beneficiary with whom the family had no relationship.
Assuming family relationships, not bloodlines are more important
In the example above, the mother assumed that the father was not part of the picture because she had left him and had no contact with him. The law in California is not arranged to recognize the many changes in relationship that a family may experience over a lifetime. It is solely focused on the strict application of genealogy. Understanding who that includes in your family tree as you begin your estate plan will guide some of the decisions you make, and what shape your estate plan will ultimately take.
Assuming things won’t change
This is probably the most difficult assumption to challenge. Predicting that your estate will consist of a multi-million dollar lawsuit isn’t the normal challenge. But assets will change, some in predictable ways, and some with changes in life. When these changes happen, reviewing your plan is a good idea. A good plan can be a bad plan when facts and circumstances change. Understanding how your plan rests on certain assumptions, and when your plan needs to change based on events or circumstances will make you the “pro” when it comes to being in charge of your estate plan.
As estate planning attorneys we have to challenge these assumptions and help our client’s make plans that will be as adaptable as possible to future changes and challenges.
The next two posts will discuss the remaining “c”s of good estate planning.