I recently met with the daughter of one of my estate planning clients. The last time we spoke was more than three years ago when we held an emergency estate planning meeting at the hospital before her mother’s heart surgery. At that point, the family—and doctors—were concerned my client might not make it through the surgery and she wanted to make sure all her estate planning documents were just right before the operation. Fortunately, the surgery went smoothly, recovery went well, and she returned to normality for several years.
After the documents were executed, I provided my client and her daughter a list of “next steps” they needed to complete to ensure all assets would pass according to the terms of the trust agreement that was implemented. To be sure, that list entails a fair amount of work for the client, but it is essential to ensuring the estate administration process goes smoothly. All too often I have families come into my office with documents prepared by another attorney expecting the estate administration to be very simple because they were told that would be the case. Yet, when I examine the binder of estate planning documents and review the decedent’s asset information, I find the family never completed the retitling work the attorney requested. In such a case, at a minimum, the planning they paid the attorney to do was meaningless; at worst, the assets may be distributed in an entirely unintended manner.
When I met my client’s daughter, I found she had followed all of my directions to the letter. All of the pay-on-death and transfer-on-death designations had been added to accounts, separate accounts had been titled in her mother’s trust, and all of the appropriate beneficiary designations had been added to retirement accounts. Even her mother’s car had been retitled in the trust—and that’s a rare occurrence! In this instance, I was able to meet with the daughter for less than an hour, give her some direction on how to distribute the assets, and send her on her way. The entire estate administration process for the daughter took a few days from start to finish, as compared to the year or more it often takes to administer an estate when assets pass through probate.
It does take a lot of time to complete all the retitling the estate planning attorney requests, but it is imperative to ensuring the plan works in nearly all circumstances. This client’s situation is illustrative of exactly how easy it can be when everything is done properly. If you’ve done estate planning in the last few years, please take the time to look at the retitling directions your attorney provided and follow through with them. If you need help with the retitling—or if you haven’t planned at all—please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or give me a call so I can work with you to ensure the estate administration process goes as smoothly as possible.