A straightforward plan is the best plan
In last month’s column I alluded to the fact that in every successful estate plan, we do need to have a competent attorney involved to offer pertinent legal advice and ultimately, draft the documents needed to put your plan into place. But it is imperative that you never lose sight of what you want to accomplish and let yourself become too wrapped up in a bunch of unintelligible legal mumbo jumbo. After all, it is your plan and you simply must understand every aspect in order to assure that all of your goals are accounted for and accomplished.
These things just simply do not ever need to become so complicated so as to have trouble deciphering. Unfortunately that is the trend that I am now seeing become more common-than uncommon. You see, we have a bit of a quandary when it comes to estate planning and working with attorney’s. We have those that dabble in a little bit of every kind of law in their practices and quite frankly are not the best qualified to take on something as important as your family’s future. Jacks of all trades and masters of none quickly come to mind. Or, we have those that become specialized in the field to a fault. By this, I mean that they may have some quite impressive looking credentials and probably have attended the swankiest of conventions on the subject all over the country, but this very fact can be a detriment to common sense planning. You see, they then feel the need to implement every single flavor of the
month technique they have discovered. Seems as though they need to impress you, impress themselves, justify their fees, or a combination thereof.
They can break out all of the charts, diagrams, and high tech visual aids they like. But in the end, what does this really accomplish? We must not let your family’s unique circumstances become inserted as a square peg forced into the round hole of what the attorney would like done versus what you would like done. Heck, the best plans I have seen implemented simply involved some astute advisors with the knowledge and experience to know what they are doing combined with the empathy and wisdom to actually listen and therefore gain a full understanding of the family’s needs and desires. A good old fashioned yellow legal pad still works quite well to take notes and illustrate the viable strategies available to make the family’s wishes become a reality.
In my nearly 25 years of helping families, I have found that the cost and complexity of many of these drawn out schemes always far outweighs any real or perceived benefits. In my opinion, a straightforward common sense approach has always been the best practice. As is the case with most anything we undertake in life, getting from point A (little to no planning) to point B (a fully functional plan) in the most direct manner proves to be best. Simply identify and define the issues and family dynamics involved in order to determine what your desired outcome is. Then use the legal and financial tools available to make it happen.
This may sound a bit oversimplified. But I am here to tell you that these things just aren’t that intimidating. Make the commitment to yourself and your family to begin the process and follow through until it is completed-a few meetings and a couple of months is about average. With the assistance of advisors who offer sound financial and legal advice with an emphasis on putting your families best interests ahead of their own… it really is quite easy.
Dennis Foster has advised family businesses on estate and financial planning since 1991, and can be reached at 605-887-7069. His column is published the first Friday of each month.