I met an attorney…………

While attending a small get together hosted by a mutual friend I had the pleasure of meeting Tom.

Tom is an attorney with a large law firm in the city in which we both live.  A pleasant man and easy to talk with, Tom told me about the work he does, explaining with some exasperation the messes that he spends most of his days working through.  Probate, family conflicts, unfunded trusts, poorly written documents and things left undone by both clients and their attorneys.

After I explained the work that I do, helping set up estate plans with lifetime services, periodic reviews and end of life settlement, Tom agreed that all of his clients problems would not even exist had they had these services.  Of course then he would be out of a job and not making the  handsome salary he commands.

Once again I am convinced and assured of the importance of the work I do to

A sad story of a lost gift

  • Preparing For Hurricane TogetherA disappointing phone call came in today. Not the first time I had heard these same words. An appointment I had made with Ms Smith (not her real name) was being canceled.
    She explained that her son and her nephew had told her she didn’t need an Estate Plan. Something they had done with her home and her accounts were all she needed.
    I could have told her that her son was doing something illegal – the unlicensed practice of law, UPL, but since it is his mother it probably wasn’t illegal, only misguided.
    There seems to be a mystery around estate planning. Years ago it was very uncommon for folks with less than a million dollars in assets. Banks would maintain ‘trust departments’ to invest those assets and set up a trust over which they would be trustee. This was beyond most people’s financial ability and so the idea that trusts were for the wealthy was the accepted belief.
    Since Estate Planning is a specialty in the practice of law not every attorney is well versed in the drafting of a trust document and it continues to be made more complicated than it needs to be. Therefore people try to find loopholes.
    There are a number of things a person can do to try and avoid the frustrations and cost of probate, but each of these are only a part of a total plan. Often I’ll use an analogy or two to explain.
    I am a DIY, a do it yourself kind of guy. If I can figure it out and do it myself there is no reason to be paying someone else. Drives my wife nuts. But when I die, the DIY is gone and the family is left to deal with whatever I left behind.
    I live in the northpart of the mid west. I have never been in a hurricane, but I’ve seen the news footage on television. The folks down there are not boarding up their homes and windows with 2 x 4s. They are using full sheets111 of plywood. They know that if they put a few 2 x 4s across the window the storm will blow in and destroy the house. Those 2 x 4s represent the quick solutions people use rather than engage a professional. They think they have out tricked the storm by doing it themselves. In many cases the storm still enters the house and ends up costing more time and money than if they simply sought expert advice and purchased the plywood.
    I hope Ms Smith’s son calls me back. If he is willing to listen I can explain how the benefit he hoped to gain in one area will be trumped by the tax implications in another area. Ms Smith’s other adviser is in the financial services industry. There is a lot of information to keep up with in that industry. During my 25+ years as a licensed financial adviser I would never advice my clients on estate planning matters, it was out of my area of expertise and seemed morally wrong if not illegal.
    The sad thing is that I don’t think I will ever hear from Ms Smith’s son. I could tell him that the cost of the plywood is a whole lot less than the 2 x 4s and more of a sure thing. He would be doing himself a big favor. After the storm Ms Smith will be gone and her son will be left alone to clean up the house. That’s why I made sure that I got my own father set up properly. It’s a gift to me. Then I set up my own estate plan. Its a gift to my wife and family.

Estate Planning Mistakes to Avoid

We are all going to die.

This is not a bad thing. It is a part of life. Ideally we should all die in our sleep of old age after having watched our children grow, played with all our grandchildren and love and be loved in wonderful and fulfilling ways.  But this is out of our control.  What is in our control is what we leave behind for those we care about.

No one has a crystal ball.

There is no possibility to predict what position you or your loved ones will be in when you die. Financial, physical and emotional well being at some point in the future can not and should not be guessed at as part of a well designed plan. We also can not predict what will happen in our situation based upon what happened to another person. There are too many factors to guess at anything.

Control what you can control.

There are certain things that we have the ability to control. Taking the steps and making the decisions that are within our control should not be difficult and is fully our responsibility.

There are only two legal documents to choose from.

When it comes to making plans for your future a Will or a Trust are your only options. Both of these have upsides and downsides. If a person fails in getting one of these prior to their death, the state in which they live will give them a standard Will. It is seldom a good option.

Documents to protect us while we are alive.

yourself. A Power of Attorney gives the legal right to a person of your choosing to handle your business Three documents are crucial in choosing who will speak for you when you are unable to speak for affairs when you are unable. A Medical Power of Attorney / Medical Guardianship gives the legal right to a person of your choosing to speak on your behalf in regards to your medical care when you are unable. A Living Will / Medical Directive states your wishes regarding what life saving steps you choose to be performed on you to maintain your life as well as a variety of other medical decisions you have made for yourself.

There are often future costs because there are always future services.

Obtaining the right documents from a qualified Estate Planning Attorney is only the first step in proper planning. Lives change and if your documents  are to be effective they also need to change to properly reflect your wishes. Knowing what future costs will be is a wise and prudent move in making responsible plans.  Regular reviews, updates and end of life settlement are life events that require assistance. Skipping the first two only makes the last one more costly and more confusing. Planning for these necessary future services should be a part of the total plan, and is a gift to those you put in charge.


In Summary:
  • Making plans is an important part of life since no one can avoid the reality of death.
  • There are only two documents for you to choose from, so there is no reason to over analyze or procrastinate.
  • Estate Planning is a specialty. It is not financial planning. Seek advice from the proper people.
  • There are always future costs. Ask enough questions so that you understand all the costs for today, in the future and after you are gone.
  • Know who will be there to help both you and those who will need assistance after you die.
  • The biggest mistake people make is thinking they don’t have enough to cause a problem.

This short summary report is the beginning of your education about planning properly for your future while protecting yourself, your estate and those you love.