I’ve heard it a lot over the years when meeting with client families: “I did not read the boilerplate”; or “that’s not important, it’s just boilerplate”. The general feeling tends to be that boilerplate is a pain and really does not accomplish anything. The truth may surprise you.
What really is “boilerplate”? The definition is “standardized pieces of text for use as clauses in contracts or as part of a computer program”. Contrary to what many may believe, the “boilerplate” can make or break your estate plan. You see, it is impossible to predict what will happen in your life, your family and with the laws that affect your estate plan. At least in documents I draft, the boilerplate is there to cover all the situations I can think of that may come up. I do not draft it thinking it will happen; I draft it knowing that I want your plan to work how you want even IF it does happen.
We had a case recently where the boilerplate was critical to carrying out my client’s wishes after passing. A disgruntled beneficiary brought a suit to have my client’s trust declared invalid. We won. Then, we petitioned the court to have her removed as a beneficiary. How could we do that? Because the “boilerplate” of the document stated that if a beneficiary challenged the validity of the document, they would no longer be considered a beneficiary of the trust. It was very important to my client that his wishes be carried out. He had several friends, family and charities he wanted to benefit from his hard work and he did not want a beneficiary’s lawsuit to upend that plan or lessen the amount his chosen beneficiaries would receive. The “boilerplate” included a “no contest clause”, which was the key to minimizing the impact of the lawsuit on the other beneficiaries.
So, next time you review your estate plan documents, take some extra time to read through the “boilerplate”. And if you have any questions about why a particular provision is there, just ask me. I expect there is a good reason it’s there.