You are probably reading this right now because you still need convincing to get your estate planning done. Or, maybe you are just looking for the right attorney to work with. Either way, I hope I can help you.
The first thing I want to say is, I am writing this for those of you that live in my local practice area along the Wasatch front in Utah and in the St. George area. I’m not trying to write to a national audience. I am interested in helping those that live around me and share my similar values, beliefs and approaches on how to best plan for and care for your loved ones. I am saying this up front because sometimes you might get clicking and surfing around and suddenly you find yourself reading some lawyers site in New York, Florida, California or Michigan and you might not realize that some of their advice and approaches are different than how we do things in Utah. I’m not just talking about the variability of the laws from state to state. But more importantly, the differences that come from the unique common culture, beliefs and attitudes we share towards our families and loved ones here in Utah.
So, this site is for you – my current friends and client families and for those of you that might be looking for an attorney that can help them “first understand” the needs of their family, and “then be understood” through the drafting of appropriate and thoughtful loving instructions. I refer to those I work with as my client family. I don’t work with everyone that walks through my door and I don’t try to be all things to all clients. We both have to feel comfortable about working with each other. The things we discuss and counsel about are very personal, important and private. We discuss the most important things in your world – your loved ones – and what happens to them when you are gone and you are no longer able to help them or exert an influence in their lives. Or, just exactly how you want to be treated and cared for if you become disabled, incapacitated and need assisted living or nursing home care.
I hope you don’t mind if I write in the first person – like we are sitting in chairs across from each other having a serious conversation about things that have a very deep meaning to you and your family.
Why do I think Estate Planning is Important for You?
Let me direct my answer to you husbands (statistically, we are the first go!). It’s my belief when you say to your wife and children “I love You” – that it must at least mean “I have planned for You.” If you agree with me, then answer this question: When you’re gone and looking down at your loved ones, what do you see happening to them? Right now – think about it. You’re gone. You’re looking down on them. What was your plan for them? Did you leave a plan? If you did, is that plan working the way you hoped it would? Or, do you see your wife and children muddling through what will be one of the most traumatic experiences of their lives?
Answer: Estate planning should be important to you – because you love your wife and children enough to leave a plan for them.
Now, if you don’t have a plan, you’re not alone. According to two recent studies, one conducted by Lexis-Nexis through a Harris Interactive poll and one by FindLaw.com , sixty percent of American adults don’t have a will or any “estate plan” for themselves or their families. I don’t think this is a careful or loving way to live. Do you? Most people I talk to agree that it isn’t.
A common experience for me when I tell people I’m an estate planning attorney, is to hear a sheepish confession that they intend to get going and do something about their estate planning, but they just haven’t gotten around to it. This is often followed by a sad story of what happened to them when their mom or dad or one of their grandparents died and what a mess and hassle it was for the family. The tale is frequently punctuated by how expensive the attorney was and how long the probate process took. Occasionally they will tell me of ill feelings that developed among some family members through the ordeal.
The other response I get when I tell them I’m an estate planning attorney is: “Oh, I’ve got a Will!” When I hear this, I immediately congratulate them and tell them I’m sure there Will is better than the one the state of Utah has for those that die without a Will. (When you die without a Will, it’s called dying “intestate.” If you die intestate, the state legislature has written a Will for you.) However, when I tell them that having a Will guarantees their estate will go through probate, they are surprised. After I then mention a few of the pitfalls that can happen by relying on a will to accomplish their planning goals, I find people become very interested in learning the right way to plan their estate.
When is the best time for you to Plan?
This is easy to answer. Just do it before you die. And you know when that is – don’t you?
Seriously, I’ve thought about why we allow planning our “final matters” to keep moving to the bottom of the heap. My conclusion: it’s not that we don’t care or think it’s not important, it’s just we never get around to getting it done once and for all. We believe we have plenty of time ahead of us – and most of us do – but if right now isn’t the right time – when in the future will it be?
Truth be told, in most cases, because husbands and wives own assets as “joint tenants with rights of survivorship” and have joint bank accounts when you die dad – nothing changes. Because mom’s name is on everything, the “survivorship” rules makes it hers. But where does that leave her? It leaves her with the responsibility of figuring out what to do with everything on her own – without your help. This is when the kids contact an attorney and bring her in to get things settled.
The whole issue here is that nothing has been planned – it’s all left to Murphy’s law – – if something can go wrong – – it will. And yet most people think the most loving thing they can do is to leave everything to their spouse and children out right in a big lump. The problem is, there’s no instructions.
But, we think, hey, when I die, no one will be attacking our loved ones when we are gone. There isn’t a police officer or a sheriff or a judge that comes in and starts ordering them around. And, we think I’m leaving her enough money and assets for her to get along fine. And, really it’s never too late to solve these problems, and she can hire the attorney to help her figure it all out – – after you’re gone.
Overview of My Planning Process
LifeStrategy Estate PlanningTM
Now I admit it’s an abused practice these days to dress it up an “old” concept with a new catch phrase and offer it as something “new. ” However, in describing my planning process as – LifeStrategy Estate PlanningTM my purpose is to simply keep my client families focused on the fact that estate planning is a life time strategy. It starts with much thought and planning and then as things change the plan and strategy changes. Unless you have an estate plan that can change with you, then you have something that will only work under a static set of circumstances that existed when you drafted them.
Leave Loving Instructions
The core philosophy of my LifeStrategy Estate PlanningTM process is this: You have spent a life time earnings and acquiring what you now have and will continue to acquire more as your estate grows. You have spent countless hours carefully caring for your property, keeping taxes down, saving, investing, agonizing over how to live comfortably now yet provide for the future and the unexpected.
Isn’t it interesting that the wisdom we have gained by experiencing our own good and bad decisions don’t seem easily passed down to the next generation? The reality is, every generation needs to have many of the same trial and error experiences of the previous generation. And yet, there is much wisdom and advise that can be given to help ease some of the lessons of life. I hope you have journals, and video’s, and photographs and great family traditions and unwritten memories that you will pass down. And that the lessons and wisdom you have gained will help your loved ones in the future because you have preserved them and put them in a form that they can have during their lives.
The same should be true about your estate. You have spent a life time earnings and acquiring what you now have and you will no doubt continue to acquire things and your estate will grow. I would hope that you also have a desire to leave some instructions and directions for your loved ones on how to use what you leave them – in a manner that protects, takes care of and helps them.
The good news is, that through a thoughtful trust based estate plan, you can influence your children’s lives. Your estate plan can literally continue your influence and care for them into the future. One way or another, you’re going to die, and your estate will be passed on to your heirs. The only question you have to answer is, do you want them to receive it with a well thought out plan that is full of love and concern, help and constraint, generosity and wisdom, protection and instruction? Or, do you want to just hand them a stack of cash, titles, assets and property and hope they’ll they manage things responsibly for themselves and your grandchildren.
In the end, if you and I decide that we can work together and decide to go through this process of planning your estate, you will have done something very good and loving for each other and your family. Really, a loving trust is the finest gift that one spouse can give another, or that parents can give their children. And I want you to know, and be comfortable with the knowledge that when we’re done, you will have a trust plan that will work. I don’t want to create for you the illusion of your having a trust -I want you to have it in actuality. This is a trust plan that is meant to work.