It’s that time of year when gardeners are breaking out their trowels and sunhats, and perusing nurseries for plants to create their gardens for the summer. I love gardening and have spent that last couple of weekends planting seeds and seedlings of tomatoes, peppers, green onions, potatoes, kale, spinach, radishes, cabbage and Swiss chard. And I still have more to plant! While digging in the soil, it occurred to me that gardening and estate planning are similar in a few ways.
Last year, I planted several tomato plants on my deck and patio. Mid-way through the summer, the tomato plants on the deck were decimated by an infestation of spider mites. By the time I took action, it was too late to help the deck plants but luckily, I was able to save the tomatoes on the patio. Now I am more knowledgeable and better prepared to stop the pests in their tracks if I encounter the same problem this year. Creating an estate plan requires the same perspective. Your estate plan should be rooted in the present based on your finances, family and health, but prepared to address both expected and unexpected circumstances. In short, your estate plan should have a solid foundation and the flexibility to branch in several directions depending on the situation that arises.
I also planted yellow squash and zucchini for the first time last summer. The zucchini grew spectacularly; the yellow squash did not, despite fertilizer, more water, etc. I plan to plant yellow squash again this year, however, it will be a different variety and in another location with the hope that it will grow better. Similarly, you should adjust your estate plan regularly through the years. If you or your loved ones have major changes in health or finances, your estate plan may need to be updated. For example, if you name an adult child as your Personal Representative and she passes away, your Will should be updated to replace her and name a successor. Additionally, you may want to direct that her inheritance is distributed differently than what is in your current Will.
For years, I have planted basil and marigolds with my tomatoes. Besides the bright yellow, orange and red marigolds drawing attention to the cherry tomatoes hiding in the green foliage, the flowers also provide protection from several pests that can damage the tomato plants (except spider mites apparently). Beyond pest control, some plants provide beneficial nutrients to the soil for other plants. Like strategically growing certain types of plants together, it is important to consider the relationships of the individuals you appoint to manage your estate after your death. I often have clients ask if their adult children can serve together as fiduciaries (Personal Representatives, Trustees, Attorneys-in-Fact) when the real question is should they serve together. If one of your goals is to preserve a harmonious relationship between your adult children and minimize conflict that could cause estrangement for the rest of their lives, it may be better to name one at a time, depending on your particular circumstances and their dynamics.
These are just a few examples of how estate planning and gardening are similar. At Samuel, Sayward & Baler LLC, our knowledgeable attorneys will meet with you to thoughtfully assist with developing a foundational estate plan or adjusting your estate plan because of changes in your life. And after meeting, I will return to playing in my garden.
Attorney Abigail V. Poole is a senior associate attorney with the Dedham firm of Samuel, Sayward & Baler LLC which focuses on advising its clients in the areas of trust and estate planning, estate settlement and elder law matters. She is an active member and current President of the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA). This article is not intended to provide legal advice or create or imply an attorney-client relationship. No information contained herein is a substitute for a personal consultation with an attorney. For more information visit ssbllc.com or call 781/461-1020.
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