A pair of my favorite estate planning clients revisited me this month for an update to their estate planning. I suspect they have our virtual checkups scheduled on their calendar for the same time every year. Like clockwork, they come back every two years on the same month.
One of the benefits of my virtual law office is that all of the contents of the case files are date and time stamped. My clients and I can easily locate the last time we talked and review exactly what we discussed and even access the last version of their documents. It’s nice to have that record to return to. Much like a patient’s medical history, it’s a record of this family’s legal planning for their future. We can pick up from the background we’ve already established.
Unfortunately, most of my clients do not follow up like this couple. I send out reminders to clients that they should consider reevaluating their estate planning every few years, and many will get back in touch, but following through with the full checkup takes longer. Estate planning gets pushed to the bottom of the priority list.
My husband and I are guilty of it ourselves. We make regular checkups for our children at the pediatrician. We schedule dentist appointments for every member of the family. But regular “legal checkups” for estate planning are the easiest to push off into another month.
Why is this? I certainly know the value of reviewing legal documents every few years. There are two reasons I think this may be the case for most of us: 1) The death of ourselves or our loved ones is the last thing healthy people want to think about, and 2) for most people, there is no perceived immediacy. Your child needs to visit the pediatrician for vaccines before being allowed to enter school. Your teeth will be in bad shape and potentially in pain if you don’t have them regularly cleaned. Your death is hopefully a long ways off.
Aside from scheduling your legal estate planning checkup to recur on the calendar each year at the same time, how can you make the process less likely to fall through the cracks?
Here are a couple of ideas (and yes, I plan on following my own advice on this one for my own family’s legal checkup):
- Death may not feel impending, but taxes happen every year. Think about having your estate planning reevaluated during tax season each year as part of that process. This is a great time because you are also looking at your financial status and can work with any changes in that which may need to be reflected in your legal documents.
- Try to incorporate a discussion about estate planning into your family events throughout the year when your named guardians, executors, trustees, etc. may be in the room. That is not possible in some family situations, but I know of brother and sister teams that will get on each other’s cases about going in for their legal checkup. Or grandparents who will put some pressure on their kids to make sure their legal affairs are up to date. Having friends, such as those in a mother’s or other parenting group, who will talk about these issues and remind each other to get it done and keep it updated, might be helpful.
- Don’t hide from your estate planning lawyer throughout the year. Keep in touch. I actually care about my clients. It’s the reason I chose this practice area. I want to hear how my clients and their families are doing. If you don’t want that kind of relationship with your lawyer, then just register for their blog or for the email newsletters so that you will have the occasional email reminder that you need to schedule that checkup coming to your inbox every couple of months.