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What a Mess This Could Be!

 Posted by Jim Morgan on September 13, 2019 at 5:54 PM

Thank you to this week's guest blogger Jennifer Rozelle, Attorney at Hunter Estate & Elder Law.

Meet Wanda.

Wanda is 71 and is moving from her beloved house that she raised her two children into an independent living community for seniors. While packing up, Wanda discovers her old estate planning documents inside her fireproof safe. She truthfully had not given too much thought to them since they were prepared twenty-five years ago. Curious as to what they might say, she starts reading and finds it rather confusing. She quietly says to herself, “Oh, lawyers and their legalese!” Instead of pitching them off to the side in frustration, Wanda picks up the phone and calls an attorney to see if they would review the documents – and better yet, help her understand if she needs to update them.

Fast forward a few days, Wanda is in the attorney’s office. As she is sitting in the conference room waiting on the attorney to join, she thinks about everything that has transpired over the last twenty-five years – to name a few: she got a small inheritance from her own parents, her daughter got re-married, her son got a promotion and moved twice; her two granddaughters are in college, but cannot save a dollar if they tried; and her grandson has special needs.

The attorney walks in, sits down, and begins describing her existing estate plan. It is in this conversation that she discovers that her current plan does not reflect her wishes anymore – after all, her daughter’s former married name is in the documents; her son’s old address (from two houses ago) is listed; her granddaughters likely need some oversight of any future inheritance; and her grandson would be kicked off any governmental benefits he is entitled to if he received an inheritance from her. To the attorney, she says, “What a mess this could be!”

In the estate planning industry, “big” life events (like moving) often become triggers for individuals and families to either revisit their existing estate plan or contemplate finally creating one. Though, it is not always big life events in their lives – but perhaps their childrens’ lives, grandchildrens’ lives, etc. Additionally, there may be personal changes, but laws are constantly changing, too – and because laws change, estate planning attorneys often develop new tools to better serve the general public. Like, what are my options to avoid probate? And, how do I preserve my assets against the cost of long-term care if I don’t have long-term care insurance? Or finally, what laws have passed that may impact my existing plan?

As a Greek philosopher once said, “Change is the only constant in life.”

Estate planning should not be a one-time thing. In this industry, we see people adopt the mindset that “I’ve done my Will … check the box – that’s done forever!” While we wish that were the case, life happens and things change. Wanda is the classic example. Whatever document(s) you may have done twenty or thirty years ago were very likely done while looking through a much different lens. In the future, as you experience “big” life events – moving and downsizing – we encourage you to let it be a reminder to pull out your estate plan and ensure that is still reflects your wishes before it is too late.

By: Jennifer Rozelle, Attorney at Hunter Estate & Elder Law