Thursday, March 26, 2015

Honesty in Estate Planning

     Of all of the reasons to begin the estate planning process, one of the most important for many clients is gain the peace of mind that comes from knowing a plan exists to care for their loved after the client’s death. For some people that means having guardians and trustees who will see to it that their children grow into responsible adults. For others, that plan is as simple as making sure that someone will organize their assets and divide them equally between the beneficiaries. These clients have common situations and it is easy for them to express their concerns for the future. Generally, the client is forthright and open about their desires and therefore we are able to establish a plan to meet those goals.
     For other clients, this process is not as simple. These clients find themselves in a position where they know that their children or other loved ones, for a variety of reasons, are incapable of managing assets for themselves and will need additional assistance. Some of these beneficiaries may have substance abuse problems, others may simply be bad at managing money, and others still may be in relationships that the clients feel are not in the beneficiary's best interest. In all of these circumstances, it is possible to craft an estate plan that addresses the clients concerns, but only if the client is willing to be open and willing to discuss the situation truthfully. 
     For clients with more complex situations, we find that problems often arise due to the clients desire to keep their private lives private. No one enjoys admitting that everything is not perfect, and often clients who need more complex planning will not open up about their concerns, despite our best efforts, until well into the planning process. While this delay is understandable, it is important to remember that attorneys and financial planners can only provide good advice if our clients give us access to all of the pertinent information. 
     There are many tools and techniques which we can use to help a client create a plan that will care for their loved ones’ needs, but only when the client communicates those problems. We cannot talk about options for long-term trusts designed to provide for a loved one's needs without directly providing that person with access to assets if we do not know that a son has spendthrift issues. We cannot prepare documents that take into account the need for substance abuse counseling and testing before making distributions if we are unaware that these issues exist. We cannot prepare documents that address the disparate needs of different children, who may not have good relationships with one another, if we are unaware of these family dynamics.
     For clients in these unique situations there are two pieces of good news. 
  1. Your privacy is secure. The things that you discuss with your attorney are privileged and will not be shared with anyone else. We are aware that these are difficult issues and want to help you address them. Therefore, you can open up and discuss your concerns about loved ones without worrying that this information will ever reach their ears. 
  2. This is not the first time we have dealt with your situation. While each client’s circumstance is unique, any given client is unlikely to be the only one with these types of concerns, and it is unlikely that their story is something we have never heard before.
     Clients come in all varieties, with all manner of concerns, but regardless of those things they all want to create a plan that protects their loved ones and our goal is to help reach that goal while maintaining their privacy.
      It is important to remember that when you come to an attorney, the advice you receive is only as good as the information you provide the attorney. Like any other professional who provides counsel and advice, an attorney is limited to what the client chooses to share. Therefore, it is important that clients come prepared to discuss all of their concerns in order for them to receive the best representation. When consulting any new professional, take the time to get to know the person and make sure that you can be comfortable sharing all of your concerns with them, so that they can provide you with the level of care that your deserve.

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