Last week we discussed the importance of being proactive in developing a California estate plan to ensure that your wishes are carried out in the event of a sudden illness or accident. But that is merely the first step in the process. Executing a will and then placing it in a safety deposit box to accumulate dust is not a strong estate plan.
A complete and strong estate plan requires thoughtful monitoring, and when necessary, additions and modifications. Changes in your life may require corresponding tailoring of your estate documents. A divorce, marriage, or an addition of a child through birth or adoption should prompt you to reexamine the documents you have already executed. Failure to do so can lead to expensive and unintended consequences.
For example, when the writer Michael Crichton died, his wife was expecting a child. His will specifically stated that any subsequent children would be excluded from his estate. Crichton's adult daughter and his pregnant wife went to court over whether he intended to deny the unborn child a share of his estate, or whether he intended to include it, but merely forgot to revise his will. If Crichton had simply taken a short amount of time to update his will, he could have made his intent clear and saved his family the pain and expense of going through probate.
A thorough estate plan also depends on communication with family members. You should tell your family where they can find relevant estate documents in the event of an emergency. If they are kept at a bank or with an attorney, give them the contact information of the attorney or a person at the bank.
Source: Forbes, "Etta James, Others Remind of Need for Estate Planning in 2012," Danielle Mayoras and Andy Mayoras, Jan. 24, 2012.