So many things have taken a backseat to Covid during the last year that I was surprised last week by one that has not – estate planning.
A contact reached out to me for help with trust administration following the death of her spouse. I phoned the estate planning attorney I prefer the most, only to discover that she is not taking new clients. “I’m booked up for the next few months”, she said. Since previous referrals had been enthusiastically accepted, I was curious as to what had changed. Her earnest reply was that the pandemic has seemed to drive home the necessity of being prepared for the ultimate and she has been inundated with business as a result.
The surviving spouse also expressed surprise at the amount of work and expense in administering the decedent spouse’s trust. We did manage to find her a capable estate and trust attorney to guide her. She was relieved to have the guidance. She realized that the successor trustee she and her deceased spouse had chosen – a close family friend and artist who had no business nor trust experience – was probably not a suitable choice for successor trustee. She chose to amend the trust to appoint a professional trustee in her place.
I see this frequently but in less appealing circumstances. Typically, it is a floundering non-professional trustee overwhelmed by the work of trust administration desperately seeking a good estate attorney to save them from themselves. For this reason, I strongly encourage the selection of a professional as successor trustee. They have a professional obligation to follow the trust document and to proceed in a responsible manner as to do otherwise would expose them to legal liability. Yes, they are costly but it may prove to be money well spent when it comes to closing a substantial estate.
Estate planning may seem both unappealing and daunting given the process. There is typically a need for a living trust, some documentation of the trust, some decisions about disposition of assets and provisions for special needs children if you have them. You will also likely need a pour over will or other documents to complete the typical planning scenario. While these matters may seem complex, a good estate planning attorney can quickly guide you through the process.
By the way, it is not a static process. Many seem to forget the plan once in place. That is a mistake. It is wise to do an annual review and update the plan for any changing life circumstances.
Covid has had a tremendous impact on our society and work life experience. Don’t let it also affect your life should the unexpected happen. Also, a comprehensive plan will contemplate planning for disability as well as death. With today’s longer life expectancies, one may well suffer a disability event which can substantially alter your life circumstances and financial needs.
Estate planning is not typically high on anyone’s list of priorities but in the face of the pandemic, maybe it’s worth stopping to reflect on your situation and making preparations for the inevitable.
Feel free to reach out for guidance or any questions you might have for your estate planning. We are happy to help.
Doug Kennedy has extensive knowledge and hands-on experience in building robust foundations for family offices and serving the role of a trusted advisor. He performs business advisory services and financial consulting work for a variety of family-owned businesses from start-ups to mature successful enterprises. His experience has been spent in family-dominated publicly owned companies, high net worth individuals, estate planning, wealth management, succession planning, leadership transition, and risk management.