I recently engaged in a self-directed spiritual retreat, where I focused on identifying my goals and priorities in life. I have always known that I want everyone I know to get to heaven, but taking the time to sort through what that exactly means to me was immensely valuable.
Clients who do the same exercise of identifying goals and priorities are best positioned to get the best legal advice from their lawyers. In the context of estate planning, I initially ask clients for family and financial information laid out on paper. However, I also usually spend at least one meeting just getting to know the client’s values, beliefs, priorities, goals, fears, dreams, risk aversion and risk tolerance.
Only upon knowing that information can I provide advice concerning what legal tools might be best for that client. Some clients will come into my office with an idea of the tool they want. For example: “I want an irrevocable trust.”
However, I cannot give the quality advice upon which I pride myself until I know a lot more information, sometimes information that is difficult for my clients to think about. We attorneys can often help clients to analyze those priorities. However, that work is expensive when an attorney leads the discussion, especially if the attorney bills by the hour.
Therefore, clients who want the highest quality legal product from attorneys in the most efficient manner need to try to identify their goals before they get their attorneys’ advice. Obviously, the attorney needs to know the basics of what you own and who is in your family and sphere of influence. However, the deeper and harder work is to think about what you truly want. A good attorney who gets that information will be able to craft a tool or set of tools that can help you accomplish almost anything.
For example, let’s presume that separate clients come to my office the same day with what initially appear to be very similar facts. Each client is retired with a couple hundred thousand dollars of assets and some real estate, a rental property or a farm.
One client wants protection from “the nursing home” or taxes. That client’s main goal is to ensure that the “government doesn’t get the money.”
The second client has an overall priority of making sure that the kids who will administer the estate have the easiest possible, least expensive and most prompt administration upon the client’s death. This client is not as concerned as the first client is about long-term care expenses.
There would certainly be some similarities in the estate plan for each of these hypothetical clients. And, more than one specific goal can be accomplished in an estate plan. However, the differences in the most important priorities of each client means that their estate plans, if prepared properly, will each have some differences.
There are tools that attorneys can use to help get clients’ closer to their deepest wishes being accomplished, as long as attorneys know those deepest wishes.
Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LLC in Putnam County. He limits his practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. He can be reached at Lee@LeeSchroeder.com or at 419-659-2058. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.