The usual response I receive when I ask, “What brings you here?” during an initial meeting with clients, is, “To avoid probate and minimize taxes.” Avoiding probate and taxes are good goals, and easy to resolve.
The much more difficult — and much more meaningful work — is all relational. When we delve further into clients’ goals for estate planning, I have found that they want much more, especially concerning family. They want their children to get along, want them to know that they were loved, and they want their hard-earned wealth to be utilized appropriately and wisely.
Relational goals are long-lasting. By engaging the client in these kinds of discussions, we can make the estate planning experience so much more significant. Not addressing these concerns could result in long-term, negative effects on the client and the client’s family.
It is difficult for clients and their attorneys to get below the surface to address relational and emotional concerns. Staying above the surface with financial, legal and tax matters seems safer.
Discussions about relationships are risky and may elicit feelings of vulnerability. Avoiding them is easier but can leave devastating deep-rooted negative effects — sometimes for decades.
As attorneys, we are professional counselors. I believe we can not only help our clients by serving as catalysts for these types of conversations, but also feel that it is our duty to do so.
We need to reach beyond the superficial nature of taxes, probate and finances to capture and include the heart of an estate plan.