By Mark E. Lewis, The Law Offices of Mark E. Lewis & Associates

Winter. Bleak and cold. It can be beautiful, but best enjoyed through a thick glass window (or a thin television screen), preferably with a hot cup of cocoa. In this new season of 2024, I’ll propose that we are also in a financial winter. Recently, I felt the pain in the wallet that is inflation when I paid $10 for a Big Mac combo at McDonald’s. The housing market feels like it’s unsustainable, and sources tell me that housing prices should fall soon.

However, a financial winter is not a nuclear winter! Spring will come again. Wise farmers begin to plan for the spring during the depths of winter. They care for their livestock, measure out their seed, and begin to plan for how they will plant and water to bring forth a good harvest in the future.

Winter and Your Estate Plan

What does all this have to do with creating or maintaining a good estate plan? Everything! Even the bleak season of winter is a time to plan for the next season. In fact, it may be that winter season is when you are most free of other schedule-filling fun to make that long-delayed appointment with our office. We can gather information about your resources, desires, and needs and help you plan for the next season of your life. Being wise, you will want to lay out what would happen to your real estate if a life event like incapacity or disability occurred. You will also want to ponder how to counter the effects of once-in-a-generation high inflation on your beneficiaries.

Inflation can artificially increase the apparent size of your estate, resulting in a direct and negative financial effect on your beneficiaries if your estate goes through probate. The cost of probate in California is why we so often use living trusts, but merely avoiding probate is not a trust’s only function. Instructions for management and control before death have to be carefully woven into instructions for distributions after death. The correct trustees and asset managers need to be empowered to act in changing markets. For example, the right kind of protections have to be drafted in a trust document to allow a safe real estate sale in a declining market. The trustee of a trust needs to be specifically empowered to hire agents and other professionals.

It’s Time to Review

The winter season could also be a time when a wise farmer mends and sharpens his tools. When was the last time your estate plan and trust was reviewed? What if, for example, you made important cash gifts that in light of inflation are now worth pennies on the dollar? This is a great season to re-think and update those instructions to reflect your intentions. Did you refinance any real estate before the interest rates rose? If so, did the lender make sure your real estate was left in your trust and/or move your real estate back into your trust correctly after your loan documents were recorded? If not, a major benefit of your trust could be lost. At Law Offices of Mark E. Lewis & Associates, we can check title for you during a review and make sure your real estate will not pass through a costly and time-consuming probate.

The titular character in Shakespeare’s Richard III (quoted in this article’s title) decided to make himself a villain because war had ended and his vision and skill were all for war. Although attorneys are trained to be fighters, our goal is to keep your family and estate away from fighting one another in the probate court arena. Over 25 years, we have gained the experience to navigate the best options for our clients in any season of their lives… even winter!