I often stare, somewhat embarrassed, at my creation of legal documents on behalf of my clients. Especially after I explain my role of speaking clearly clients’ intentions at a time when they can no longer speak. The black and white legal documentation looks nothing like what my clients expressed to me as their most important hopes, wishes, and goals.
Lawyers often believe that the form is most important – that somehow the clarity of the written legal word will communicate clients’ heartfelt wishes. However, no matter how artfully written, the form cannot stand alone in transferring intention. The written word is a static, stable, constant form of communication. This might work in and of itself if expressing a non-changing element such as gravity. However, we live our lives in process, change, multi-dimension, complexity, and emotion.
The legal documents we prepare do serve an important functional purpose, they explain who, how, when, and what to do. Alone, they don’t express the meaning and intention underlying the plan. The Conversation provides the meaning – the “why” and builds empathy, a deep understanding of the maker’s intentions.
Research shows that more than 70% of estate plans fail, failing defined as intentions not being honored. Research also bears out that process-oriented conversation provides the “cure”. When families actively engage in conversation, from time to time, over a period of time, this failure rate decreases considerably.
In our practice, family meetings are in integral part of the process, where we set the tone, remove all distractions, and engage in conversation.