Friday, August 21, 2009

Focusing on the Results, not the "Documents"

For the past decade I've been fighting the same fight: namely, getting clients to stop thinking of their estate plans in terms of the type of documents they need -- e.g., "I need a will," or "I need a trust" -- and instead shifting the focus onto the client's goals and objectives. Once the goals and objectives have been thoroughly discussed between the attorney and the client, then an effective estate plan can be designed to meet the client's needs. The various legal documents are simply tools in the lawyer's toolbox for meeting the clients objectives. The attorney's real value is in helping the client understand the implications of the planning as it fits the client's particular family and financial situation, and then in crafting the appropriate planning tools to realize the client's desires.

Here's an analogy: assume you are hiring a contractor to build a house. Do you simply tell the contractor to start building the house as he sees fit, but to be sure to use only Phillips head screwdrivers a Husqvarna electric saw, etc.? Of course not; you would surely have a blueprint of the house prepared by an architect or similarly qualified source, and would rely upon the contractor to use appropriate tools to get the job done right.

Well, in a "traditional" estate planning scenario, clients seem to assume that they know the appropriate "tools' to use for the planning, rather than relying upon the attorney to use his or her professional expertise to select the proper planning tools. Just as absurd, in traditional estate planning, experience tells me that the attorneys all too frequently fail to provide adequate counseling to the clients to structure an appropriate estate plan for that particular family; instead, the attorney acts as a mere "scrivener" in producing a "word processed" estate plan.

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