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Trust and Estates Attorneys

After the Signing: Caring For Your Estate Planning Documents

By Estate Planning Attorney Kerri Castellini

The decisions required throughout the estate planning process can be difficult. Not many individuals revel in thinking how to prepare themselves and their loved ones for a myriad of worse case scenarios.

However, most of my clients tell me that they feel a sense of relief and calm after they sign their documents. Although the estate planning process ends temporarily once the documents are signed, there is more estate planning homework to be done.

  • Where should the documents be stored? After someone passes away, the original Last Will and Testament is required to be filed with the District of Columbia Superior Court, Probate Division. Many individuals store their important documents in their safe deposit box. Unfortunately, after the owner of the safe deposit box passes away, court intervention is needed before the box can be accessed. Sometimes, this requires the court appraiser and a locksmith to meet at the bank, before the Last Will and Testament can be retrieved. In situations where individuals have not discussed their estate plan with their Personal Representative, often, there is confusion regarding which family members or friends were nominated to serve as Personal Representative. The delay caused from opening the estate can be significant. To solve this problem, our firm offers a free service to our clients to store their original Last Will and Testament in our firm’s safe deposit box.
  • When should the documents be reviewed? As a rule of thumb, it is often helpful for individuals to reread their estate planning documents every three to five years. However, if an individual has experienced a major life event, such as a marriage or divorce, birth or death, significant increase or decrease in overall wealth, purchased a new home or moved to another jurisdiction, it may be prudent to review the documents sooner. In addition to major life events, the tax laws and the District of Columbia probate laws change from time to time. An up to date estate plan is often the first step in ensuring a smoother estate administration. Although with many modern estate planning techniques it is possible to build flexibility into an estate plan, estate planning documents are meant to be organic documents that are revised and changed to meet a client’s current goals, family dynamic, and nature of assets. With major life events and changes in the law, it is often necessary to review and tweak estate planning documents.
  • How are the assets coordinated for the overall plan? After estate planning documents are completed, it is necessary to coordinate asset ownership and beneficiary designations to fund the estate plan. For example, the creation of a revocable living trust alone does not allow for any assets to be governed by the provisions of the trust. It is necessary to re-title assets into the name of the trust. Many estate plans fail because they remain unfunded at the death of the decedent.

A well-coordinated and up to date estate plan is often one of the best gifts that an individual can leave his or her loved ones. Remaining organized during life can lead to a more streamlined and cost-efficient estate administration, and a smoother transition of assets to either the surviving spouse or children.