Why Some Estate Plans Fail

Clients become legally disabled when their treating physician determines that they are unable to handle their legal and financial affairs. Once the client becomes disabled, it is too late to prepare and sign new legal documents. Obviously, the same is true when a client dies.

Time and again we find that the client’s legal documents were prepared many years ago and are either inadequate from a personal or professional point of view. It may be that the wrong person is in charge due to any number of circumstances -- illness, unavailability, estrangement, death, etc. In other cases, the power of attorney, the will or the trust is legally inadequate. Examples of this may be that the client had the power of attorney done many years earlier by a general lawyer, but failed to have it reviewed or replaced by an elder law attorney when they got older. Thus they end up with a power of attorney that is not strong enough to move assets out of their name or to set up a trust to protect their assets. Under Medicaid, it’s move it or lose it.

Countless wills and trusts do not reflect the current state of the law when a client dies, especially regarding New York and Federal estate taxes. These laws change every few years as evidenced by changes made by the Trump administration and now proposed by the Biden administration.

The problem arises out of the fact that law firms are traditionally unwilling to take the responsibility to keep their clients informed as to law changes or to review their estate plans on a regular basis -- to make certain their plan will work when the client needs it -- not when they wrote it many years earlier.

At Ettinger Law Firm we keep clients informed of law changes with a weekly, award-winning newsletter, the Ettinger Elder Elert (“Elert” since it comes by email). To subscribe, please send an email to info@trustlaw.com. Further, we provide a free review of our clients’ estate plan every three years. Having used this approach for over two decades, we have saved thousands of clients countless problems and, when something happens to one of our clients, we know who they are since the relationship has been maintained.

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