When should clients review their advance directives for updating?
The ABA Commission on Law and Aging offers an easy-to-remember guide: the “5 D’s.” Per the Commission, a client’s directive should be reviewed when any of the following occurs:
- Death of family or friend
- Receive a new Diagnosis
- Experience a significant Decline in health
- Reach a new Decade
As the client’s estate planning attorney, you are unlikely to be aware when many of these triggers occur. And it’s just not realistic to expect clients to remember to contact you if one did. Clearly, clients will need some assistance.
Using the 5 D’s as a guide, here are a few ideas for helping clients keep their directives updated – that also help you keep in touch with them:
- Send an annual reminder to all clients about the 5 D’s. If any of the D’s applies to them, ask them to contact you and to review their directives. Consider scheduling this communication around National Healthcare Decisions Day, which occurs annually on April 16. Click here if you’d like to receive a sample 5 D’s graphic that doubles as a client reply card, along with a sample reminder letter.
- On a client’s birthday that begins a new decade of life, send a personalized reminder letter to review their advance directive. Or, invite them in for a quick update meeting to take care of this (consider having your paralegal handle it). If the client hasn’t been back to your office in the past 10 years, you might want to offer this update gratis to help renew the relationship.
- If you have a client maintenance program or annual updating program of any kind, you will certainly include a healthcare directives update. Most firms do the review every 1 or 2 years.
In the course of updating clients’ advance directives, you may discover other changes in their lives that result in additional client matters right then. And that’s all to the good. But regardless, this type of contact is part of providing ongoing counsel to clients. It communicates that you are primarily interested in a relationship with your clients for the long haul.
Randi J. Siegel, MBA, is the President of DocuBank (docubank.com), the largest advance directives registry in the U.S., which ensures that the emergency information and healthcare directives of its 200,000 enrollees are immediately available 24/7/365. Working with estate planning professionals since 1997, Randi frequently speaks at national estate planning conferences and has appeared on radio and television as an authority on registries. A member of the International Society of Advance Care Planning, she is active in health policy and health education related to advance care planning and advance directives and serves as Pennsylvania liaison to the National Healthcare Decisions Day initiative. Randi is an ongoing contributor to the Academy blog.
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