Confessions of an Estate Planning Attorney

Post by: Lesley Hempfling

I feel like the heart surgeon you see outside the ER stealing a smoke on her break....what is my dirty little secret? My estate planning documents, including my Will, are over 8 years old and outdated. I advise all of my clients after they sign their estate planning documents to revisit their documents at least every five years (no matter what), but earlier in the case of: divorce, marriage, births, deaths, inheritance, changes in financial positions or other serious life changes. In the last 8 years there have been births and deaths in my family, changes in the tax code and just a general re-thinking of how and who I want to administer my estate when I die. I must admit this gives me immense anxiety when I think about the fact that should I die tomorrow, it would not be as seamless a process as it could be with an updated Will.

I see so many of my clients struggle with completing their estate planning documents. Like me, they know it needs to be done, but the reality is that it can be overwhelming to sit down and think about your own mortality and to make serious decisions like, "who will raise your children if you can't do it?" For a busy family, it just seems plain unreasonable to review 30+ pages of legal documents! I am just as guilty of procrastinating. The tasks of practicing law, raising three children and the day-to-day obligations of life have been roadblocks to updating my documents too. However, recently I have seen too many instances in my practice where an outdated Will has caused a lot of problems for the surviving family during the probate process. Some of them simply made the probate process more burdensome for their families and others made dispositions of property that the family knew the Decedent would not have wanted. If only they had taken the time to update their Wills. So, last week I committed to updating my documents and my husband's documents. There are so many stresses in life that you have no control over - updating your estate planning documents is not one of them. I will be glad to have put this stress to rest by the end of this week...at least for the next five years.