Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Great Estate Planning Fallacy -- Attorney as "Scrivener"

This past week I received an e-mail from the adult son of a client for whom I had done asset protection planning about a year ago. In his e-mail, "Frank" asked me, "how much would it cost to revise my will and do the other documents, such as a health care proxy?" Frank, who has never been married and has no children, had attached a copy of his will to the e-mail.

Frank is a successful entrepreneur with a net worth well into the seven figures. His existing will has numerous beneficiaries, both individuals and charities, and provides for many of the beneficiaries' shares to be held in trust.

In response to the "how much does it cost" question, I replied as follows:

For me to do planning work for you, it is not simply a matter of us sitting down and you telling me who you want to be the beneficiaries of your estate. Rather, to review and revise your planning, we would need to sit down and discuss your overall planning objectives. I would then be able to determine what planning tools (e.g., will, trusts, or other entities, health care documents, etc.) are required to satisfy your planning objectives. I would then be able to quote a fee for the counseling and design of the planning necessary to meet the planning goals. Of course you would be under no obligation to go forward with any of my suggestions or to pay any fee until retaining me for the work.

From my experience, many clients assume they “have it all figured out” until we have the conversation about what the client really is hoping to accomplish, and the planning often goes in directions the client had never contemplated. Bottom line, it is not as simple as you coming in and simply telling me what you want to do; in such a case you’d be overpaying to have me (or any lawyer, for that matter) serve as a mere “scrivener.”

I have attached our “Goals” form which will give you an idea of some of the key concepts that you should be considering in looking at your estate planning. Some of these may be ideas you’ve already thought about, but some of them may not have previously been brought to your attention.

If you would like to set up a meeting, let me know
Frank must have been satisfied with my response, as he has scheduled an appointment to review his goals and objectives.

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