Dave Jones, JD, LLM, CFP® Senior Vice President and Director of Estate Strategy, dives into how estate planning can be broken down into blocking and tackling— much like football—to create a “winning strategy.”


Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi once said: “Football is two things—blocking and tackling.” Perhaps an oversimplification, but the principle is correct. Winning in football boils down to whether the team does a few, essential things really well. If a team blocks and tackles better than the team they’re playing, they’re likely to win.

At Bailard, we recognize that achieving your estate planning goals often hinges on a few critical aspects of the planning process. These tasks may seem basic and perhaps even tedious, but their importance cannot be overstated. They are:

  1. Regularly reviewing estate planning documents;
  2. Funding your revocable trust; and
  3. Designating beneficiaries for retirement accounts, annuities, and life insurance policies.

In this article, we explore these critical aspects of estate planning to help you accomplish your estate planning objectives.


Why—and How Often—to Regularly Review Estate Planning Documents
Estate planning documents—such as wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and healthcare directives—form the foundation of your estate plan. However, it’s not enough to simply create these documents and then forget about them. Since life is dynamic, circumstances change over time, which may necessitate revisions to your estate planning documents. Like a football game, you cannot necessarily set and forget a “winning” strategy—your approach must be dynamic, adjusted based on your team’s players, changing circumstances, and other factors.

It’s not uncommon for clients’ estate planning documents to be more than 10 or 20 years old—requiring significant updates to address changes in personal circumstances as well as changes in tax and state laws. We generally recommend that estate planning documents be reviewed every two to five years, even if personal circumstances haven’t drastically changed. Outside of this maintenance cadence, some common life events warrant immediate review:

  • Marriage or Divorce Within the Family: Changes in marital status can have significant tax and non-tax implications for your estate plan. It’s crucial to update your documents when your marital status—or the marital status of a future beneficiary—changes to reflect current circumstances and intentions regarding the distribution of your assets.
  • Birth or Adoption of Children: The arrival of a new child or grandchild often prompts the need to revise your estate plan to ensure that your loved ones are provided for in accordance with your wishes.
  • Changes in Financial Status: Significant changes in your financial situation, such as inheritances, business ventures, or liquidity events, may necessitate adjustments to your estate plan to account for new assets or liabilities.
  • Relocation to Another State: State laws governing estate planning and probate vary, so if you move to a different state, it’s essential to review and update your estate planning documents to ensure they comply with the laws of your new state of residence.
  • Changes in Beneficiaries or Fiduciaries: If your relationships with beneficiaries change or if you wish to add or remove beneficiaries, it’s crucial to update your estate planning documents accordingly. Similarly, it’s also very important to update your documents if you wish to change your fiduciaries (i.e., Executors, Trustees, Guardians, Agents).

Regularly reviewing and updating your estate planning documents in light of these and other significant life events—or every two to five years—helps ensure that your documents accurately reflect your wishes and that your assets are distributed according to your desires.

Creating and Funding Your Revocable Trust
A revocable trust is a valuable estate planning tool that offers numerous benefits, including probate avoidance, privacy, and flexibility in asset distribution. However, simply creating a revocable trust is not sufficient to reap these benefits; you must also fund the trust by transferring title of your assets into it.

By funding your revocable trust, you ensure that the above assets are held and managed according to the terms of the trust, thereby avoiding probate and streamlining the administration of your estate. (Note: In several states, such as California and New York, the probate process can be much more expensive and time-consuming than other states, such as Texas or Montana. You should consult your local counsel to guide you about the probate process in your state and county.) Additionally, a revocable trust provides continuity of asset management in the event of your incapacity, as your designated successor trustee can step in to manage the trust assets on your behalf. Assets that can be transferred to a revocable trust generally include:

  • Real Estate: Transfer ownership of your primary residence, vacation homes, rental properties, and other real estate holdings to your revocable trust. Often your attorney will prepare the deed and transfer documents for real estate.
  • Financial Assets: Transfer bank accounts, brokerage accounts, and investment accounts to your revocable trust. If you have digital assets (e.g., Bitcoin) in a wallet or held on an exchange (e.g., Coinbase), you should discuss with your attorney the most effective methods of transferring ownership of these assets to your revocable trust. Additionally, any loans that you have made to family or others may be considered a financial asset and titled in your revocable trust.
  • Business Interests: If you own a business, consider transferring ownership interests or shares to your revocable trust. For example, S corporation shares or LLC membership interests need to be updated to reflect ownership in your revocable trust.
  • Personal Property: Valuable personal property items such as artwork, jewelry, vehicles, and collectibles may also be transferred to your revocable trust.

Designate Beneficiaries of Retirement Accounts, Annuities, and Life Insurance
Beneficiary designations for retirement accounts, annuities, and life insurance policies supersede the instructions outlined in your will or trust. Therefore, it’s essential to review and update these beneficiary designations regularly to ensure they align with your current wishes and intentions, and are coordinated with your overall estate plan. Here are some key considerations:

  • Primary and Contingent Beneficiaries: Designate both primary and contingent beneficiaries to ensure that your assets pass according to your wishes, even if your primary beneficiaries predecease you. Doing so will also help these assets avoid probate, which may occur when there is no beneficiary designated to inherit the account.
  • Minor Beneficiaries: If you intend to leave assets to beneficiaries under the age of 18, carefully consider establishing a trust or naming a trust as the beneficiary to manage and distribute the assets on behalf of the minors. New laws regulating retirement plans make this a very complex area of the law, so be sure to consult with your attorney before designating a trust as a beneficiary.
  • Spousal Beneficiaries: If you are married, your spouse may have certain rights to your retirement accounts and other assets. Consult with your estate planning attorney to ensure that your beneficiary designations comply with applicable laws and maximize the benefits available to your spouse.
  • Charitable Beneficiaries: If you wish to support charitable causes, consider naming charitable organizations as beneficiaries of your retirement accounts, annuities, or life insurance policies. Naming a charitable beneficiary can also minimize, or eliminate, any estate and/or income taxes associated with the account or policy.

Play Like a Team
Estate planning, much like football, hinges on mastering the basics—the blocking and tackling, so to speak. But winning still requires communication and playing like a team. For example, sometimes it is more advantageous to make a gift by beneficiary designation than through your will or revocable trust, or vice versa. It is common to remove a charitable beneficiary from the will or revocable trust and instead make the gift from a retirement account for tax reasons.

Regularly reviewing and updating your beneficiary designations ensures that your assets are distributed efficiently and in accordance with your wishes, while also minimizing the potential for unnecessary taxes, disputes, or challenges to your estate plan.

While estate planning may not be the most enticing topic for many (many may argue the same about football), it’s crucial to recognize estate planning’s significance in securing a smooth transition of wealth. By addressing these three “block and tackle” tasks—reviewing documents on a regular basis, funding your revocable trust, and designating beneficiaries—you lay the groundwork for a “winning” estate plan.