“How can you help me? What do you do for a living?” These questions are asked of me many many times during the course of a year.
The answers to these questions are really tough. It is true that estate planning includes “maintaining control over my property while I am alive, taking care of me and my loved ones if I become disabled, and giving what I have to whom I want, the way I want, and when I want, and if I choose, saving every last tax dollar, court cost and professional fee possible.” It does not fully describe what estate planning, or my practice, is all about. “Estate Planning” in my mind transcends drafting documents. It does not mean deciding which boiler plate form should be taken off the shelf for a given individual. “Form planning” in my mind is boring and is a disservice to the client. After all, we are all unique and have our unique sets of circumstances, dreams, fears, and aspirations. Perhaps estate planning in part involves helping people articulate their unarticulated dreams.
What is important is not what is important to the attorney, accountant, financial advisor or insurance advisor. Rather what is most important is that which is important for the client at that time, at that place. The only way that any advisor can appropriately help a client is by learning everything he or she can about that client, his or her family, and that client’s hopes, dreams, fears, and aspirations.
Now I just may shock you. You see such things as disability planning, avoiding probate, and saving estate and gift taxes are common and relatively easy to do. Think of these tasks as the primary colors on the color chart. There is no magic to this. The mastery of the greatest artists comes with the mixing and the application of these colors on various media. Think of an estate plan as if it were a painting. The hard part involves helping a client determine and articulate what is most important to him or her. The mastery then comes in painting a painting that reflects, and is appropriate, effective, and comfortable for the client. Perhaps then estate planning is an art form that is utilized by estate planning professionals to help their clients.
Sidebar: I feel compelled to address another important topic: Attorneys. Unfortunately a fairly large percentage of the public has a bad image of attorneys; some of which I will admit is not unwarranted. However, there are a lot of knowledgeable caring professionals out there who are committed to serving their clients and making major contributions to the community. Please do not indict the entire profession because a few bad attorneys have gotten a lot of press over the years. Please do not be afraid to seek counsel in any area of the law because of this. There are many, many, good attorneys, in all fields of the law, who understand the responsibilities that are placed upon them in their various roles. After all, attorneys assist with many of the most important events in our lives including the purchase of a home and other property, the establishment, preservation or sale of a business, employment issues, marriage issues, and the adoption of children. Thomas Bacon is famous in part for the following quote “Knowledge is power.” Knowledge that is utilized and properly applied is even more powerful. Many lawyers have an awful lot of knowledge and understand how to properly use it. Why not empower yourself?
As I above indicated, I do not believe in “Form Planning.” “Form Planning” means deciding which boiler plate forms should be taken off the shelf and used for a particular individual. “Form Planning” in my mind is boring for the attorney. More importantly, it is a disservice to the client. After all, we are all unique and have our unique sets of circumstances, dreams, fears, and aspirations.
“Estate Planning” in my mind transcends drafting documents. Those who believe in peddling documents do not understand what true estate planning is about. Estate planning, in part, helps individuals articulate their expressed and unexpressed dreams, fears, aspirations, and objectives in a legally appropriate fashion.
© 2006 Lena Barnett & Associates, L.L.C. All Rights Reserved