Bedrock Principles of Legacy Planning

Over the years I have been guided by certain core principles in doing my part to create estate plans that work.

People Are Different.   Each of my clients has a unique background – each of them has their own experiences, their own goals, and their own concerns.   A fill-in-the blanks, one-size-fits-all estate planning document, whether it is a will, a trust, or something else, simply cannot work for everyone, in light of those differences.

My job is to listen, to create an environment where good thinking can take place, to explain options, and to help clients make choices. I believe that an estate planning document can, and should, capture the client’s vision and voice.

People are Smart and Capable.   The lawyer may be the expert on the law, but clients are the experts on their families, and on their goals for the family.  If people are given the right information, in a way they can understand, they can make informed decisions, and can be effective participants in creating and maintaining their plans. In fact, if the plan is going to have any chance of working, clients have to assume responsibility for the things that only they can control.

The lawyer’s job is to help people through the minefield, to show them where they need to know more, and to give them a way to learn the things they need to know.  I understand that people learn in different ways, and that they probably won’t fully understand and accurately remember something the first time they hear it.  The lawyer’s challenge is to keep it interesting, make it sticky, and to motivate people to keep learning.

It Takes a Team.  For a plan to work, the client, the lawyer, the financial planner, the insurance advisor, the accountant, and the family members all have to do their part.  No matter how good he or she is designing estate plans, a lawyer cannot know as much about the appropriate Investment Policy Statement as a capable investment advisor, and cannot know as much about insurance products and annuities as an experienced insurance professional.

My job is to provide a process where the expertise of everyone on the team, including the client, can collaborate in creating, implementing and maintaining an estate plan that achieves the results the client wants.

Things change.  The law changes; the economy changes; values change; and people change.  No matter how well a plan is designed, no matter how clearly a client’s intentions are expressed, it is unlikely that a plan designed twenty years ago will still work today.  It is no exaggeration to say that it takes a lifetime to make an estate plan work.

My job is to provide a stable platform from which clients can manage the most important and difficult transitions in their lives.  I am committed to long-term relationships with my clients and their families, based on mutual commitments and shared goals, to ensure that their plans work as intended.

Everybody dies.  Sooner or later, every estate plan meets the ultimate test.  And in that test the documents are proven to be nice-sounding legalese with no relation to reality, or an effective Compass and a Map™ for completing the settlement process as the client hoped, or something in between. Our job is to focus on results, and on the overall cost, and to keep the client and the entire team focused there as well.   Focusing on results means making sure that, not only does the money get to the kids, but that the kids are ready for the money.  Focusing on results means paying attention to everything a person has to pass on to loved ones, whether or not you can place a dollar sign in front of it. We find that most of our clients want to have a say in how they will be remembered after their death – for the accomplishments they are proudest of, for the items of personal property that have deep personal significance to them, for what they learned and what they can teach, for the stories they remember and want others to remember – for everything that makes up the legacy of a lifetime.

The above statements may seem obvious, but when an estate plan fails, it is often because everyone ignored one of these simple truths.  It was our recognition of these bedrock principles that led me to develop the process I use to create plans that work.