Estate Plan Maintenance Programs: Are They Worth It?

Over the next several decades, as Baby Boomers pass away, trillions of dollars will pass from one generation to the next. If you’re in that age cohort and you have an estate plan, you may think you’re all set.

But are you really?

What if your estate plan is obsolete and you don’t even know it? It happens more than you might think. If you die and your estate plan isn’t current, many of the assets you intended to transfer to heirs could end up diverted to lawyers, probate courts, and the state and federal government in the form of higher than necessary fees, costs, and estate taxes. Consider this a failure of your estate plan.

How do estate plans fail? Most often, they fail because things change. Laws change. Family circumstances change. Goals change. Yet most people won’t return to the lawyer’s office to update their estate plan. Why? Chalk it up to fear. Many people believe that communicating with a lawyer is too expensive. After all, they’re being billed by the hour—or the minute.

That’s why a growing number of Life Care Planning Law Firms are now offering annual estate planning maintenance programs. For a fixed annual fee, these programs create an affordable way to keep estate plans current. The services included in maintenance plans vary from firm to firm, but at their most basic level, maintenance plans consist of a periodic review of estate planning documents, asset ownership and titling, goals, changes to state and federal laws, and other estate planning-related matters. Some firms offer certain services for free or at discounted rates. Other firms offer coaching engagements on estate planning-related matters. Ultimately, the goal of these programs is to create fail-proof estate plans that will accomplish what they were meant to accomplish.

Are estate planning maintenance programs worth it? We posed this question to J. Barry, an attorney and founder of Elder Law of Middle Tennessee, a Life Care Planning Law Firm in Lebanon, Tennessee.

J. began offering estate planning maintenance programs about two years ago. Tailored to meet the specific needs of each client, the firm’s maintenance programs offer coaching on the management of trusts, an annual review, and other services in exchange for an annual fee. The trust coaching service has been especially popular. “We found that clients really appreciate having someone they can contact throughout the trust life cycle, especially during the first year,” says J.

Offering a program with a fixed annual fee saves time and money—for the client and the firm. “Without the maintenance program, clients would put off calling because they knew the meter would be running,” J. explains. “By the time they finally would call, the situation was usually a bigger problem that was more expensive to solve than it would have been had they called earlier. Today, they don’t hesitate to call because they know it won’t break the bank.”

It may be worth your while to consider a maintenance program. “In order for an estate plan to do what you want it to do, it needs to be approached as a process, not a one-time event,” J. adds. “You have to keep it updated. If you don’t, the people who were counting on you to have your affairs in order might be in for an unpleasant surprise after you’re gone.”