Generally, after a client signs the documents the Will or Trust or other estate plan documents a lawyer has prepared, the attorney – client relationship is officially over, and the clients are encouraged to come back to the firm every two or three years, or when life circumstances materially change, so the plan can be reviewed and modified as may be necessary.
Not surprisingly, without some specific reason to go back and see the attorney who prepared the documents, clients don’t. And years go by before the clients see an attorney again about their plan, and by that time it may be too late to make changes to the plan that may be very desirable because of a change in the client’s circumstances, or those of some family member, or a change in the law, or because of looming costs of long term care.
Dentists understand these things. Whenever I leave my dentist’s office, I have in my hand a card telling me when my next appointment is. They know that left to my own devices, I’m highly unlikely to call and make an appointment to see my dentist again until something hurts.
Our Maintenance Plan is our effort to change the way things are typically done, and have an agreement with our clients about seeing them on an annual basis.
Estate planning documents do not, simply by age, become void. But they may not best advance the client’s goals upon incapacity or death. Consider the following.
- When a plan is signed we don’t know when the plan is going to “have to go into action” so to speak, since the triggering event for that event is usually incapacity or death, and we don’t know when those things are going to occur.
- We don’t know what the assets of the client will be at that time.
- We don’t know what the tax laws will be at that time.
- We don’t know for a certainty what the client’s donative intent will be at that time, nor who among the heirs named will be living, nor what circumstances they may be in that may impact how an inheritance is left.
- We can’t even say for sure what assets will be controlled by the estate plan, as an increasing amount of our client’s wealth is tied up in IRAs and other such assets which may well pass outside of any document we draft.
So to allow our clients (and ourselves) feel more assured that the plan we put in place will achieve the intended goals, some of our clients decide to become part of our Maintenance Plan.
The Plan allows us to better serve our clients and their families at the time problems or legal questions arise, whether due to failing health, the prospect of long term care (be that in home or a facility), trouble encountered by a beneficiary (accidents, debts, addictions, divorces), incapacity or death. As part of the Plan we offer family meetings, so that the overall plan (as is appropriate for each family) can be discussed with family members, and others who have a role in the plan, including other advisors as may be appropriate. These meetings allow us to communicate with all who our clients wish to be informed about their plan (noting these meetings often do not go into the amount of the estate) including about any responsibilities they may have under any plan, whether that be as executor, trustee, health care representative, guardian, or other position of responsibility. We find many family members who are named to these positions, do not understand the duties and responsibilities inherent in those positions, which can lead to family discord that might otherwise be avoided, and unnecessary expense and delay.
Not all clients will find our Plan a good fit for them, and there is a charge to be in the program. We continue to provide traditional estate planning services for such clients. However, we do think that many clients, even those with modest estates, can find material benefit in the Plan. If you would like to know more about how the program works, please contact us.