Ali’s father-in-law was a careful man. He spent $3000 with a law firm in Florida to prepare an estate plan so that his family would not be stuck in probate court when he died.
And yet, after he died, that is exactly what happened. Ali’s family found itself buried in probate court in Florida and Ohio, dealing with her father-in-law’s assets, and in another Florida court, dealing with his ex-wife.
The problem was that the law firm had committed two critical mistakes. First, the law firm ended its relationship with Ali’s father-in-law after creating the documents so that he never had his estate plan updated to match his changing life. Second, the title to the assets which her father-in-law wanted to protect were never properly transferred to his trust, which meant that the family had to fight for them in the probate courts. The process was expensive and took forever. And Ali’s father-in-law had wasted the $3,000.
To me, the conduct of that law firm was malpractice. But malpractice is deviating from the standards among estate planning firms, and it turns out that almost all of them do the same thing. Which means that there are thousands of people out there who think they have avoided probate by getting their estate planning done when in fact they are heading for probate.
Estate planning is not about creating a set of documents. Rather, it is about a long-term relationship. You need to find an attorney who will take responsibility for the transfer of the assets to the trust, including following up with the client to make sure he or she has actually made the transfers. And you need an attorney who will make himself or herself available on a continuing basis for legal advice and further estate review.