Many people understand the importance of having up to date estate documents in place well prior to actually needing them - this topic is covered in all of our client review meetings. Documents that address your current goals will help avoid the complexities that always arise from death or disability. However, few people take the time to ensure that the estate documents of loved ones are also current and, most importantly, are properly "coordinated" with asset and account ownership even though we may be named the executor or executrix of their will or a trustee of their trusts.
Having documents in place is only one part of the equation. Even if the documents are updated and properly address current goals and changing family situations, proper ownership and registration of the actual assets many times “conflict” with the documents in place. For example, if a trust indicates a desired distribution of assets, real estate deeds and account registrations must reflect the trust ownership. Many times real estate is sold and purchased and investment accounts are repositioned after a “first death” or after the original trust was created. This may result in an entirely different distribution requirement after the surviving spouse dies then what may have been initially intended, especially if the will reflects different distribution instructions than the trust (which is often the case). Beneficiary designations of “payable on death accounts” and IRAs will supersede and can conflict with other trust and estate document goals as well.
Of course a qualified attorney needs to put these documents in place; however, very few attorneys follow through with consistent review meetings to make sure client wishes indicated in these documents can eventually be implemented many years down the road. If you are an executor/executrix of a will or trustee for a loved one’s trust, making sure everything is in order will save significant amounts of time and potentially painful family conflicts that will inevitably arise in the future when estate settlement occurs. Since in this situation you will be in the middle of any conflicts, time spent now to make sure everything is in order will be well worth the effort.
Although we always recommend consulting with a qualified attorney regarding any legal issues, there is a lot we can do as part of our review meeting process to help address most of the concerns that can arise from an “uncoordinated” estate plan. We would be happy to meet or talk with you and your family together to make sure things run smoothly during one of the most difficult times your family may experience. During the preparation phase of our review meeting process, be sure to emphasize this concern if you will eventually be responsible for overseeing all or part of the settlement of an estate.
In the meantime, click below for a summary of critical estate documents and what they are designed to accomplish: