Estate Planning 101: Care and Custody of the Estate Plan
By Attorney Marlene S. Cooper
There are three core documents to a good estate plan: (1) a revocable living trust or, in very limited circumstances, a will; (2) a durable power of attorney; and (3) an advance health care directive. But estate planning doesn't end with getting the documents created. Some people go through the effort of creating an estate plan but then set it on a shelf or lock it away in a safe deposit box without telling anyone of its existence or its provisions. When disability or death occurs, family members and other interested persons are surprised to learn of the existence of an estate plan. This situation often creates chaos at the very time when order is needed.
Many times a person who has been named as a successor trustee or an agent first learns they were chosen as a trustee or agent when he or she has to perform the required duties. Before you name someone as your successor trustee, executor, or agent in your estate planning documents, ask that person whether he or she will consent to serve. If your estate plan involves appointing a guardian for your minor children, have a thorough discussion with the prospective guardian concerning your goals for your children's welfare and education. Once you create your estate plan, inform your successor trustee, executor, and agent that you have created an estate plan and let them know where the original and copies of your estate planning documents are located. In fact, it is a good idea to give the successor trustee, executor, or agent a copy of the document in which they are named so that they can become familiar with it and be prepared to produce it and perform their duties if the occasion arises. You should also give a copy of your advance health care directive to your doctor and request that it be made a part of your medical records. Be sure to discuss your health care desires with your doctor so that he or she will make decisions guided by your preferences.
An estate plan should be a "living" set of documents that you update or change as needed. Keep the original documents in a safe deposit box, a home safe, or at a minimum, a fireproof box. A copy of the documents should be kept at home and always accessible. Review the entire estate plan every three to five years at a minimum and certainly in the event of changes in your family structure. Deaths or births of beneficiaries, divorces or marriages, and significant financial changes are examples of circumstances that may require amending your estate plan. Also, if any of the administrators of your estate (your successor trustee, executor, agent, or guardian for minor children) are no longer able or willing to serve, or if your preferences change, you should amend your estate plan accordingly. Don't just lock your estate plan away: know where it is, make sure others know where it is, and make it relevant to your circumstances on an ongoing basis.
(c) 2009 by Marlene S. Cooper. All rights reserved. (Marlene S. Cooper, an attorney for over 30 years, has a practice focused entirely on estate planning and probate. You may obtain further information on estate planning and probate at www.marlenecooperlaw.com. You may also contact Attorney Cooper toll-free at (866) 702-7600, or by e-mail at