My law firm, TrustCounsel, is currently in the process of reviewing all of our clients’ estate plans and notifying those that need to update their plans due changes in the law, and possibly changes in the client’s situation. A recent New York Times article, Assemble a Paper Trail, and Make Sure Your Heirs Can Follow It, suggests that this is a critically important process, stating: “Once you have [an estate plan], it is crucial to keep it up to date. This should be done every five years or whenever there is a major life event.”
This article goes on to say that “in a year when there is no federal estate tax — though there will almost certainly be one in 2011 — reviewing wills and trust documents should be on everyone’s to-do list. Reviewing both wills and trusts for someone with substantial assets is particularly important this year. Even though there is no estate tax, wills can have clauses that distribute assets to trusts as if the tax still existed. This could end up leaving some heirs too much money and others none at all. And since a federal estate tax will return next year even if Congress does nothing about it, there will be a need to review everything again in 2011.”
While I agree wholeheartedly with the bulk of the article, I do caution readers about using Legal Zoom for their estate planning documents. Software produces legal documents, which may or may not end up being valid and effective, but software cannot produce an estate plan. Documents from Legal Zoom and its ilk result from a simple transaction. An estate plan produced by an expert estate planning attorney is the result of a counseling process, and is much more likely to fully address all of a client’s needs and goals. Is Robert Shapiro (the founder of Legal Zoom) writing letters to all of his customers describing all of the federal and state-specific changes in the law over the last five years?