Lost in Translation

Did you play the game “grape vine” as a child? You whisper something to someone who whispers it to another, until the last person gets the message. The last person says the message out loud. At best, it is a very garbled version of the original message.

Think about estate planning. People tell their attorney the underlying reasons for wanting an estate plan. They share concerns for their loved ones and hopes for their future.

The attorney then translates these heartfelt wishes and intentions into legal language and writes an estate plan. It’s like speaking English to someone and asking them to write down the conversation in French. However, the translator only knows scientific French words. He gets the jist of the conversation, but fails to translate the full meaning and intent. Some of the meaning and intent is lost.

After the client dies, the trustee and beneficiaries try to understand the purpose, reasons, and meaning of the estate plan, only to find hard-tointerpret legal documents.

This grapevine way of making one’s estate plan leads to misunderstanding, lack of clarity, and different interpretations can lead to fractured family relationships. The only people who can clear up any misunderstanding and define their values and meaning are gone — often estates become “lost in translation” experiences.

We need to get away from the grapevine method of estate planning and start having family meetings to relay our intentions clearly while everyone is here — to ensure a successful estate plan.