When people think of technology, they think of a fast-paced, growing field. When they think of the law, they tend to think of stagnant printed volumes of laws stacked together in a library. The difference between the pace of technological development in space technology and estate planning technology is not as great as many imagine.
I visited the eye doctor today. My vision has changed a lot since I got my prescription lenses only 6 months ago. I think of optometry as a pretty unchanging area of medicine (“Is it better with one? Or two? One? Or two?”). I was surprised that they had two new tests for me today: to check the health of my areas of my eye deeper than my retina.
Your regular (annual to no-more-than-every-three-years) legal planning check up is similar to your annual eye exam. You and your attorney are searching for the changes that are particular to you (like the testing of your eye’s vision – your prescription). And you’re also looking for changes that apply to most or all patients: the new exam technologies.Let me put this another, more graphic, way. When you leave your attorney’s office with your shiny new estate plan, all of the pieces that are particular to you are fresh and current: like fresh peaches.
And they have been baked into a pie of legal language designed to achieve your current goals within the context of the laws as they were written at that moment in time. In a way it’s a sort of snapshot. But on with our food analogy. The peaches of your particular family and assets and choices are blended with the pie crust of today’s laws including tax codes and out comes a tasty pie!
In estate planning, the annual checkup can be divided into the same two categories. The first category is the changes that are particular to you such as the financial maturity of a child that you now want to name in positions of responsibility or the birth of a grandchild whose education you want to help with.
The second category is the changes that apply to all legal planning clients with a plan similar to yours. These changes could be the result of changing legal strategies: a creative lawyer somewhere has punched a hole into a previously solid strategy so that your lawyers must be even more creative in restructuring the plan to achieve your objectives. They could be the result of changes in applicable laws: Congress makes yet another change to the estate tax system and your lawyers must adapt your plan to take full advantage of all deductions and exemptions permitted under the new law. Or they could be the result of changing legal technology: your lawyers or someone they know have developed a new tool or technique that better achieves your objectives than what was state-of-the-art legal practice the year before. These are all changes to your pie crust.
If you add the rotten inside ingredients to outdated outside ingredients you end up with a pie no one wants: