You’ve Signed Your Estate Plan, Now What?

By: Jacqueline L. Messler

Clients generally do not enjoy meeting with estate planners. In completing estate planning, clients have to face tough questions about what will happen if they become incapacitated and what will happen to their property when they die. But now you’ve done it. You’ve signed the documents. It’s over with. Stick the documents in the safe and forget the whole thing. But wait! There are a few steps to complete once the documents are signed to make sure the plan is actually implemented.

First, the client typically needs to at least review, and possibly update, beneficiary designations. The estate planner probably covered beneficiary designations to some degree in the meeting. But it is easy for clients to get overwhelmed by the process and easy for this step to get overlooked. A valid beneficiary designation on retirement accounts, life insurance, and annuities completely trumps the estate plan created in the will or trust (unless the designated beneficiary is the estate or trust). Thus, if the client’s estate plan creates a protective trust for the benefit of the client’s children, but the beneficiary designation states that the retirement account passes to children outright, the account will pass to the children outright.

Further, the clients should review the title of their assets. The client’s estate plan may be designated to avoid probate. Though married couples in Wisconsin can often avoid probate without having to retitle their assets into their trust through a Washington Will provision, there are reasons to consider retitling right away. The clients might become Florida residents after retiring, or the clients simply may want to do some of the work themselves that would otherwise be done upon their incapacity or death.

Another issue that should be considered is who should get copies of what documents. We typically recommend that the client give the durable power of attorney to the agents designated in the document, and that the client give the health care power of attorney to the client’s primary care physician and to the agents designated in the document. The client should also consider whether the beneficiaries should get a full set of the documents. If the client wants to change the plan in the future, sometimes that can cause hard feelings if someone knows they were previously getting a larger share or were designated in a certain role, and now getting a smaller share or were removed from that role. Once the copies of the documents are distributed appropriately, the original documents should be put in a safe place.

Finally, the client should consider when they will need to update the plan. For one simple example, if the clients named parents and siblings as executors and trustees because they had younger children, they should consider at what age the children are old enough to fulfill those roles. Once these few issues have been addressed, the clients may then consider the estate plan as “complete.”


The comments and opinions expressed in this blog are intended for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. Reading or using the information in this blog does not create the existence of an attorney-client privilege. Due to the changing nature of the law, the blog posts may contain dated material. For an update on the current law and the application of the law to your particular facts and circumstances, consult a legal advisor. The information contained herein is not a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a qualified attorney licensed in your state.