Modern Estate Planning – Don’t Set it and Forget It

Modern Estate Planning – Don’t Set it and Forget It

by Jill Eshman

Modern estate planning is not a transaction; it is a process. It involves not only the client but many generations. It allows you, as the client, to care for your loved ones with resources, love and wisdom. It truly is “wealth counseling.” Modern estate planning is not just something done to plan for death – it is planning for life, and life involves changes and uncertainties.

Typically the cornerstone of a modern estate plan is a revocable living trust, because a properly funded revocable living trust can avoid both the huge expense of guardianship if the client becomes incapacitated and the expense and delays of probate when the client dies. But a revocable living trust plan is not an appliance – you can’t just “set it and forget it.” Over time your assets change, your family members’ circumstances change, and the law changes. There is truth in the saying, “There is nothing as certain as change.” Failure to fund a revocable living trust and keep it properly maintained is an almost sure fire way to get to a probate court.

The modern estate planning process, therefore, includes education, design, drafting of the documents, and implementation. Like traditional estate planning, modern estate planning includes medical directives. Today those include a health care power of attorney, a living will, and a HIPAA authorization. For asset management if the you become incapacitated, modern estate planning uses a revocable living trust, backed up by a durable power of attorney.

Planning Tip: A living will lets physicians know the kind of life support treatment you would want in case of a terminal illness or injury. But its scope is limited, and in some states physicians are under no legal obligation to follow it. A health care power of attorney is broader; it lets you give legal authority to another person in advance to make any health care decisions for you — including the use of life support — should you become unable to make them.