Putting High Tech Into Your Estate Plan

If you still plug your Palm Pilot into your desktop to synch calendars every night, or assure your friends that your flip phone “still works just fine,” this piece may not resonate with you.  The first PDA debuted in 1996, and for many of us this futuristic gadget was a game changer, replacing our bulky cell phones and day planners.  Over the years these devices got smaller and smarter, until 2006 when Apple once again changed the game when it introduced the iPhone.  Thin, sleek and multi-functional, it made that old PDA seem about as high tech as an abacus.

When it comes to such technology, the vast majority of us acknowledge that “still works just fine” simply isn’t good enough, as we constantly look for faster and better, with more bells and whistles.  With smartphones this is easy, since many of us are so focused on the latest version of devices.  However, in other aspects of our lives, it can be harder to recognize when we’re falling behind the technology curve.

Trusts are a good example.  Many people have established one or more trusts as part of their overall estate plan.  Oftentimes, this was done years ago, in a state where the trust laws were, and in many cases continue to be, quite inflexible and obsolete.  By its nature, it’s easy to ‘set and forget’ a trust, so rather than reconsider from time to time whether it’s optimal, or even satisfactory for our needs, we just let it sit like a book on a shelf.  The result could be, in the worst case, a trust that falls short of even modest goals and expectations, particularly in light of what could be accomplished in a state with more progressive trust laws.  Just as technology never stands still, neither does the array of options available to those who establish their trust in, or move it to, a jurisdiction with progressive, modern-age trust laws.

While most states have done little or nothing to improve their trust laws in decades, a handful have been very proactive in making them flexible, pragmatic, and user-friendly.  New Hampshire, for example, has spent the past decade systematically modernizing its trust laws, which are now considered to be the most attractive in the country.  As a result, during this time, New Hampshire-chartered trust companies have attracted over $400 billion in new trust assets.

Paul Montrone, Chairman and CEO of Perspecta Trust in Hampton, New Hampshire notes, “I’m continually amazed to find families with old, antiquated trusts that are very much eligible for an upgrade, but have not been reviewed.  These same families have lived with sub-optimal trusts without ever inquiring as to how things can be improved.”

When tech companies announce the latest version of their hand-held device, the public waits with bated breath for the new features.  When it comes to upgrading their trust or estate plan, however, families are frequently unaware of the benefits that can be obtained with the passage of new trust legislation.  Spending a little time researching how these benefits can be gained could result in significantly better flexibility and an improved bottom line for a family’s trust—and that can buy a lot of new smart phones.