As we fly at lightning speed through the month of August, we are reminded as estate planners and New Englanders that evvvvverybody is going on vacation! Some are off to the Cape or the Islands for a week, others to visit family and friends across the country and some especially lucky ones on that long-awaited riverboat cruise in Europe!
Inevitably, I hear the same shared concerns from clients as they put together their to-do list before they leave for vacation. The conversation goes about something like this: “I’m embarrassed to say this but my husband and I don’t have current wills. In fact, we haven’t looked at them since our kids were little. Now we are going on a big trip together and I am sure we need to make some changes because it’s really old. We leave on August 20th. Can we get everything done by then?”
The truthful answer is: “No, not well.” A properly crafted and executed estate plan involves far more than signing a couple of documents before you board an airplane. Sure, as estate planning and elder law attorneys we are sometimes called upon to put together a last minute plan for an ill client or assist someone with a game-time Medicaid qualifying plan, but the far better advice is to plan ahead. While this may seem like little comfort as you pack your bags for that big end of the summer trip, use this opportunity to be sure your estate plan is in a better position for your next expedition rather than cramming in an update on the fly.
Here is a quick list of reasons why it’s never a good idea to put together a last minute estate plan.
- Most people do not think clearly under pressure. Even if you are positively certain in that moment that you want to name your baby sister as the guardian of your children or leave all of your assets to one of your three children, these are some of the most important decisions you will ever have to make and they deserve the thoughtful consideration you would give them if you weren’t operating under the gun. On the other side, even the best estate planners need time to process and draft a perfect plan. Unrealistic timeframes and pressure can result in mistakes—on your part and ours!
- Having the signed documents before your trip does not necessarily mean that your wishes will be carried out. A Will only controls assets owned in your sole name and a trust only controls assets that have been retitled into the name of the trust or where the trust is the named beneficiary. Even if you and we do our job quickly, financial institutions often require significant paperwork to retitle assets. This is a process that must be handled with care and attention. Having the signed documents alone is often only fifty percent (or less) of the tasks required to create a proper estate plan.
- We need time to consider all of the variables and issues to put together the proper plan for you. Some clients come to see us to avoid probate, others to minimize estate taxes. Some come for long-term care planning, others to protect minor children. Some clients have a disabled child who receives public benefits and other have a wealthy child who has a significant estate of their own. More often than not, a client will have more than one of these issues to address in their estate plan. All of these issues must be reviewed and considered in detail before any kind of an estate plan can be recommended. A shot-gun estate plan does not lend itself to this level of proper consideration.
- A last-minute “vacation plan” gives our clients a false sense of security. For all of the reasons mentioned above, an estate plan done under the wire in contemplation of a big trip lets our clients off the hook to some degree. They can “sleep at night” knowing that they have “something in place” before they go on their trip. However, we find that despite our insistence that they come back in and reevaluate or do necessary follow-up tasks on a last minute, pre-vacation plan once they have returned, they rarely do and are left with an inferior plan that doesn’t cover all of the bases. This result is far worse than having made the appointment for the week after you have returned from vacation!
Before you board that plane or boat or train this August, please call to set up an appointment with one of the attorneys at Samuel, Sayward and Baler to review your plan when you return! Channel all of your motivation to update that plan this fall so that when you head off to warmer weather when the temperature dips below freezing in January and February, you can go off with a clear head! Of course, if you have any questions before your trip, please feel free to call and check in with one of us!
Have a safe and enjoyable vacation!
Pamela B. Greenfield