Greetings and welcome to my blog!!! Given that this is my maiden voyage here, I thought that I’d share a bit more about myself that’s not in my bio and also share my “last best advice” from a life-changing experience with an elderly client who opened my eyes as an estate planner. But maybe it didn’t open my eyes as much as it crystalized in my mind that I needed to spell out my beliefs and philosophies about estate planning. So, here goes!
I believe that I decided to be a tax lawyer when I was about 10 years old. My Dad introduced me to one and said that an accounting undergraduate degree and a law degree would be a great job to have one day. I just thought that it was cool.
How did I go from tax law to estate planning? The father of one of my childhood camp friends was a law professor at LSU who taught estate and gift courses there. Even though Gerry LeVan (the father) was no longer at the law school when I started in 1983, my path was pretty well set. I wanted to be an estate planning lawyer.
In what was a stroke of luck, Gerry LeVan (rest his soul) really became my first mentor in the practice. I had the privilege of presenting many times with Gerry and also writing with him. He taught me to give my readers my very best. I’ve never forgotten that. That actually was our late co-author, Judge Alvin B. Rubin’s advice to Gerry, so he simply passed it along to me, for which I am eternally grateful.
I describe myself as a “purposeful estate planner.” By “purposeful,” I mean that I consider the client’s total life’s picture and employ traditional and holistic means to assist clients to achieve a “good estate planning result.” By “good estate planning result,” I mean a plan that achieves the client’s goals, reflects the client’s values and nurtures or at least doesn’t harm the relationships of those who survive the client. Notice that there is no mention of tax elimination or minimization in that definition. Some clients’ goals conflict with tax minimization; that’s just a fact.
Why is a “good estate planning result” so hard to achieve? I’ll have to tackle that in a subsequent blog.
I’ll close with my “last best advice:” In my opinion, it is imperative that the purposeful estate planner make it crystal clear to each and every client that what he or she does in the estate plan can have lifelong psychological ramifications on others and can adversely affect the relationships going forward of those who survive. Clients really need to understand this. It screams out for dialogue between the client and the takers and/or those who might expect to be takers of the estate in order to allow the client to explain, in person, his or her thinking that went into formulation of the estate plan.
This dialogue goes a long way toward reducing the post-death rancor and angst as well as relationship destruction.
Where heirs aren’t given any explanation for an estate result that doesn’t meet their expectations, they often default to hurt and anger, as they often blame persons who came out better and come back swinging with a vengeance in court. Too often, there is a simple explanation that had the client, either during lifetime or at death, articulated it, it would have cut off any post-death litigation or hard feelings or hurt feelings of not being loved as much going forward. Simply put, one simple explanation could save thousands in legal fees for all concerned and eliminate or at least substantially reduce angst and hard feelings.
Simply put, the power that you have in your estate planning goes far past your property; it affects relationships of those who survive you. Don’t ever forget that. As a college friend is fond of saying, “love your people, people.”
Farewell until next time. I’d love to hear from you about my blogs or anything else regarding estate planning.