I recently finished reading the John Grisham novel Sycamore Row. Filled with intrigue, suspense and surprises around every corner, it deserves its No. 1 New York Times Bestseller status as a fiction novel.
As the story opens, Seth Hubbard hangs himself from a Sycamore tree. Before he does, he composes a handwritten will and sends it to Attorney Jake Brigance, instructing him to make sure that it’s enforced. In the document, Seth leaves 90 percent of his estate to his housekeeper and disinherits his children.
Because all Seth’s children and grandchildren hire lawyers who all try to discredit the will, Jake finds himself embroiled in a big, controversial trial. Over the next 600-or-so pages, Jake tries to find out why Seth disinherited his children and gives almost everything to the housekeeper.
Greed and family conflict make great fiction, but sadly, many families find themselves in similar real-life battles.
Author Simon Sinek wrote a book entitled Start with Why. If Seth had written his “reasons why,” Sycamore Row would be about 10 pages long — and very boring.
We must, as estate planners, do a better job of encouraging clients to pass on assets with clear intention. Our goal is to help clients clearly define their wishes in anticipation of a time when they may no longer be able speak for themselves.
Then, we can leave the mystery, intrigue, conflict and suspense to Grisham, and then focus on families and honoring real-life intentions.