Many people put their estate plan on their to-do list as a one-time project: “Create estate plan.” or “Meeting with lawyer 10:30 a.m. Thursday for estate plan.”

Thinking of your estate plan as a single project or task to complete and move off your list is a common approach – but it’s also an approach that can land you in considerable hot water. Here’s why it’s essential to view estate planning as a process, rather than a project.

Process vs. Project: What’s the Difference?

A project that takes several steps to complete – like an estate plan – can seem like it’s a “process” already. First, I need to call the lawyer. Then, I need to make time to attend the appointment. Before that, I need to get together these documents….

In fact, a project doesn’t become a process simply because it takes time and effort to complete. Here are some of the key differences between a project and a process.

A Project:

  • Seeks to create something new or implement a single, concrete change.
  • Has a specific end-goal or product.
  • Can absorb a shift in intention or goals, as long as good communication is in place.

A Process:

  • Creates value by revisiting the same tasks multiple times.
  • Requires oversight to ensure the process is consistent and produces expected results.
  • Is designed to achieve an established goal by maintaining previously set standards and values.

Estate Planning as a Process

When you’re creating a new estate plan, it’s natural to see that plan as a project. You’re creating something new when you work with a team to implement your plan. You’re creating a positive change in your life by moving from not having an estate plan to having one that effectively transfers your assets to your loved ones. And, you’re right. Setting up a trust or implementing your first estate plan certainly qualifies as a project.

But, the goal of the estate plan “project” should transition into an estate planning “process” after the official documents are executed. Under this process, you check, evaluate, and update your will, trust, and other legal documents regularly – perhaps once a year, but certainly every time you hit a major life milestone, like the birth of a child or grandchild, death of a family member, divorce, marriage, significant change in assets or income, and the like.

Life is not static. Neither are relationships, individual needs, tax laws, or (if they’re invested correctly) your assets. When your estate planning is viewed as a lifelong process, your plan is much more likely to serve your family’s needs, whatever they may be, when the time comes. Future complications and conflicts may be avoided simply because you’ve been managing your plan proactively with each change in your circumstances.

We can help you get started with estate planning and are here to guide you along the entire process. Let us become your ally in managing the process and in ensuring that you and your family gain maximum value from returning to it on a proper schedule.