John Burns

Why Estate Plans are Worthless – Part II

In yesterday’s installment, I noted that even the best estate plans can be impaired by the failure to follow through to ensure that the correct beneficiaries are named and that assets are where they need to be.  Today, I want to address the fact that estate plans should reflect one’s life, and that means that they are fluid, ever changing as life’s circumstances occur.  Thus, major life changes such as death, marriage, children, grandchildren and the like all affect the estate plan and may necessitate changes.

Recently, I was sitting in Court listening to the case ahead of mine which piqued my curiosity.  The decedent had died leaving a 45 year-old Will.  The Will was perfectly valid, but the problem was that the everyone named in the Will was now dead.  Despite the assertions of some family members that the decedent had died intestate (without a will) the Court upheld the will, and correctly applied the anti-lapse statute.  That meant that the heirs-at-law of the last named beneficiaries in the Will would inherit.  While I do believe that such was the correct result, the effect is that the estate will pass, in part, to distant relatives who did not know the decedent.

Had the decedent adapted to changing circumstances, that result could have been avoided.  It was apparent that the decedent did not want to pay a lawyer to change his will even as the named beneficiaries began to die before him, and the result is that the cost of a new will would have been a fraction of the cost just incurred to analyze and address these issues in court.

The moral of the story is this:  Keep your estate plan current, particularly in the face of life’s changes.

In the next post about a worthless estate plan, I will address how to appoint the wrong executor and trustee.

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