Estate Planning – Not Intended To Be A Static Exercise

Mlive.com recently posted an article on March 16th ranking Michigan’s 30 most-populated counties by life expectancy (which data was collected from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington), and to my delight, Ottawa County was ranked #1. Specifically, the average life expectancy of men in Ottawa County is 79.8 years (a 6.3 year increase since 1985) and the average life expectancy of women in Ottawa County is 82.8 years (a 2.9 year increase since 1985). But don’t worry, residents of Kent County and Allegan County – you still came in at #8 and #10, respectively.

With this encouraging data, I will admit that the first thing I thought of was how these numbers affect estate planning. And from there, the next thing I thought of was the many people who do estate plans early on in their adult lives, get their finalized documents back from their estate planning attorney, and then file them away at home not to look at them again for years (if ever!). The problem with that (in light of the data) is that there are so many events that can (and usually will) happen between the preparation of your first estate planning documents and your death that could significantly affect the outcome of the estate plan that once seemed perfect.

Marriage or divorce, the death of a spouse, the birth (or death) of a child or grandchild, the marriage (or divorce) of a child, significant increases (or decreases) in personal wealth, receiving a substantial inheritance or gift, moving to another state, and changes in your relationship with your personal representative, trustee, attorney-in-fact, or patient advocate are just a few of the many “life events” that we are likely to experience during our increasingly long lives. And while we as estate planning attorneys attempt to draft with flexibility and foresight, we cannot anticipate or plan for every possible change that may occur.

Accordingly, I write this blog post as a “call to action” for those with existing estate plans that have not been reviewed in at least the last few years to pull them out of the safe or file cabinet and read through them again. I would also encourage other professional advisors to ask your clients when they last reviewed their estate plan. You might be surprised what you find in those old documents. And even if the estate plan still looks adequate for your needs and desires, it is still a good idea to check with your estate planning attorney to see if changes in the law might provide an opportunity to simplify your estate plan or accomplish other goals that you may have with passing on your assets.

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