Yesterday, Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, became the longest reigning sovereign in England’s history. She is 89 years old and she still works – she reviews correspondence daily, she meets with the Prime Minister weekly, she makes public appearances, she continues to carry out her duties (“Duty first, self second”). She may not be close to being done – her mother, the Queen Mother, lived to be 101.
While the Queen has less concern with estate planning – it all gets handed down the line – I doubt that she ever contemplated being on the throne this long. This is an excellent example of how life may not play out as we imagine or contemplate.
When an individual with children makes an estate plan at the age of 40 or 45, she is contemplating the next twenty years – planning for a spouse and young adult children. As grandchildren come along, they may be added to the estate plan – their education being a high priority.
This same plan is no longer relevant when she is 85 or 90. By now, her children are senior citizens and her grandchildren are grown. There are great-grandchildren, perhaps great, great-grandchildren. The planning focus must change – the children are retirees – they have already provided for their own retirement income. The grandchildren have completed their educations and have married.
Estate planning must be seen as an ongoing process over our lifetime. Unless we meet an unfortunately premature demise, the documents that we first draft cannot be locked up in a safety deposit box and never revisited. Life changes. We change. Things do not go as planned or anticipated. It is vitally important to revisit our plans over our lifetimes, changing and tweaking as we go.
Americans admire the Queen – her grace and dignity, her work ethic. She is an example of life today and in the future – living and working longer, confronting futures different than anticipated, having horrible years and great years. When we reach the age of 89, we may find ourselves not at the end, but looking forward to more, healthy, productive years. We will be obliged to plan for the future – even then.