Life is busy, especially if you are caring for a family or running a business, or both, as many people do. It can be easy to complete a task, check it off our to-do list, and not look back as we zoom off to the next item on the list. In light of all the new demands that come flying at us daily, it can be easy to avoid tending to “maintenance” tasks, especially when they don’t clamor for our attention.
My wake-up call was a look at my law firm website after not having glanced at it for several months. I had had the website for around ten years. It hadn’t been giving me any problems, and I was so consumed with “real work”—the needs of my clients—that I hadn’t paid the website much mind.
Yet when I looked at it, really looked at it, I realized that I should have. I practice in New Mexico, and the law firm website I had created reflected that, with images of desert and mountains. The website on my screen featured an image of a marshy landscape on the home page. When, and how, had that changed? I looked deeper. There were some links that no longer worked, some information that was outdated. The website simply no longer represented the law firm. Taking a fresh look at the website made me realize that the website needed, well, a fresh look—not to mention more current content and more helpful resources.
As I worked with a team that specialized in law firm website design, it occurred to me that what they were doing for me had parallels in what I do for many of my clients. A large part of my law firm’s business is estate planning and business planning. Often clients come into the office to create an estate plan for their family, or to form and organize their businesses and to create the documents that govern how the business will operate.
Just as my original website met my needs at one time, the documents I prepare for my business or estate planning clients are designed to meet their needs and goals. But as we all know, needs and goals change over time along with our circumstances.
The last will and testament you created when your children were toddlers and you didn’t have many assets probably looks very different from the estate plan you need when your children are in their late teens and you’ve accumulated some assets. For instance, you may no longer need a guardian to look after your minor children if something happens to you. But you may want to establish a trust so that if you were to die suddenly, your 18- and 19-year olds will not have full, unfettered access to their inheritance.
If you have a trust, the person you named as a successor trustee ten years ago may no longer be the best person for that role. Some of the beneficiaries you named may no longer be alive, and others you would want to name might not even have been born when you created the trust.
Your personal circumstances are not the only thing that may have changed. Laws change, too, but unless those changes are sweeping and dramatic, most people aren’t aware of them. You might have an estate plan that looks like it does what you want, but changes in the law might mean problems that won’t be evident until your estate ends up in a probate court—or until you see an attorney for an update.
Likewise, business owners should look over their governing documents, employment manuals, and other foundational documents. Businesses evolve, grow, and change just like families do. The focus of a business may change. Partners come and go. Employees get hired, and some may get fired. Does the structure of your business entity still work? Do your vendor contracts and governing documents still cover everything you need them to? Do you remember what they say?
If not, you may need to take a fresh look. In doing so, you may find a swamp where you expected to see a mountain. The good news is, if you take that look before a problem or lawsuit forces you to, you’ll have greater control over the legal landscape your family or business will face in the future. We invite you to explore our new website and contact The Law Offices of Dana M. Kyle, P.A. to schedule a consultation.
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