Life moments that should remind you to update your documents
Parents of younger children often leave their lawyers’ offices with a sigh of relief. “We are so glad to get that out of the way,” they laugh together as they drop their pens on the conference room table after signing their estate documents. “We won’t have to think about these things any more, and we can concentrate on dance class and AYSO.”
As vital as is youth soccer to a healthy childhood, it is actually a good idea to not let any of the joys of young parenting get in the way of managing the documents that will direct the pattern of a family’s life if one or both parents meets an untimely end. Most families need to follow a few simple rules to be certain their estate documents don’t age as awkwardly as Dad’s homecoming tie or Mom’s prom dress.
The easiest way to think about managing the family estate documents is to consider them to be much like the family car. Parents understand that changes in the family configuration – a new baby brother, a cousin who moves in for an extended visit, or a sister who leaves for college – should prompt thoughts about what kind of ride the family will need after the shift in size. The same process applies to managing the family trust. While it is a good idea to plan on getting to the trust attorney’s office at least once every three years to review how your documents have stood the test of time, there are a number of other events besides just the ticking of the timepiece that should send parents back to the estate planning table.
Changes in membership
Most people don’t need to be convinced that becoming a father or mother calls for a trust tune-up; adding a son or daughter-in-law should trigger the same response with our planning papers. Likewise, reaching grandparent status should automatically signal the time to touch up testaments and trusts. Sadly, when cherished parties leave us, it is also a time to revisit our documents. No one ever likes to learn that his or her name was never added to the sacred scrolls of family legacies (being the youngest carries enough opportunity to feel left out without discovering it also deprives one of a place at the will-reading party).
Following up on promises
Besides those times of adding (or subtracting) places from the holiday table settings, there are other moments when the trust and associated documents need to go in for a legal fine-tuning. When a parent makes a promise to a child (or to a grandchild) about something which will happen after Mom or Dad is gone, that statement may only be a passing premise to the speaker, but the young mind that hears those words immediately carves the commitment into stone. Failure to follow up on a promise about the contents of a trust or a will does more than disappoint the party who heard the commitment: it guarantees that the disappointed person will consider challenging, protesting, and impairing the trustee’s work at any opportunity once the inconsistency becomes known. It happens every time.
Wise mamas and prudent papas stay ahead of this challenge. They know that every child had a favorite watch that Great Granddad carried on the railroad, a cherished necklace that Grandmother wore on her wedding day, or an antiquated slide rule that Uncle Harry used to engineer a bridge in San Pedro. The collective value of all these items may fail to equal the cost of a family meal at the Golden Arches or even a week’s worth of Seattle’s finest caffeine, but the effect of including a special gift to each family member will be a dividend of appreciation that every trustee will appreciate.
Regular checkups, responding to change, and following up on promises: these simple steps will help assure that a trust will continue to be as appropriate for a family’s needs after Mom and Dad are gone as the documents were on the day they were signed. M