For some reason, every year I have one or two clients who come to me for estate planning, pay me to create their estate plan and draft their documents, and then disappear without finishing up. I’ve never understood that – if something was important enough for a person to carve out time from their day to call a lawyer, to spend a substantial amount of time discussing intimate family details with that lawyer, and to pay that lawyer for the time spent in consultations and drafting, why wasn’t it important enough for that person to see it through to the end?
I’ve had people who freeze up at the very beginning of the process – they know they need an estate plan and effective legal documents in place, but they’ve become so isolated (sometimes by choice, sometimes by fate) that they have no family or friends who would be willing or able to help them with their financial or health matters if they could no longer make decisions, or to administer their estate when they die. I give them a list of professional fiduciaries who may help them out, but they never call them. And so their personal estate plan dies on the vine. They now have Florida’s default plan, which means ugliness and lots of money going to guardians, lawyers, and courts. And if there’s anything left at death, it’ll probably go to people they wouldn’t have chosen as beneficiaries.
Other people freeze up during the planning process itself because they never actually thought things all the way through. For example, if a child predeceases you, should her share go to her children or to her surviving siblings? Or, a husband and wife don’t see eye to eye on how to leave their assets – especially when there’s a “problem child” involved. Husband want to disinherit the child, but the wife can’t bear the thought. So we discuss some options, they leave to discuss it further, and then….nothing.
Some people go through the entire planning process, have thought everything through and provided me with all the information I need to draft their estate planning documents so they’ll do exactly what they wanted them to do. I send the draft documents to them for review (none of our clients will ever sign an estate planning document they haven’t had a chance to read), offer to answer any questions or make any minor changes necessary, and ….. nothing.
In all of these situations, we follow up as much as we can without becoming pests. But at some point we just have to close the file and hope they’ll contact us when they’re ready. Of course, if it’s been too long, we may have to start all over again, which means additional fees.
How can you avoid this happening to you?
- Before you contact an attorney, know exactly who you want making financial and health care decisions for you when you cannot – and make sure you have one or two backups in case something happens to your first choice. If you have no one you’d trust to serve in those roles, then let your attorney know that first thing so you can get a list of professionals and begin contacting them;
- Take a long, honest look at your family’s dynamics when deciding how to leave your assets. Money (or rather, the desire for it) brings out the absolute worst in people. It gets even messier when there’s a “his kids, her kids” situation. And don’t forget about your kids’ spouses; while your kids may all get along now, all it takes is one greedy or jealous in-law to destroy an entire family;
- If you have a complex financial situation and you want Asset A to go into a trust for Person A and Persons B and C will be the trustees of this trust, and Asset B will go into a trust for Person D with Person A as trustee of that trust, and Asset C will be sold, and Asset D will go outright to Person E, etc., think it all through. Do a flowchart or diagram to make sure you’re accounting for every assets and every beneficiary;
- Do your best to disclose EVERYTHING to your lawyer upfront. Quotes are based on the facts as originally presented. Springing a new asset or family dynamic on your attorney after she has given you a quote and has begun drafting your documents will likely result in a new, higher price;
- Respond to any questions or requests for clarification that you receive from your attorney in a timely manner (generally, a day or two is timely) so your attorney can finish your documents and get them to you as soon as possible;
- Review your draft documents in a timely manner (generally, a week is timely). If you have questions or concerns, immediately schedule a call with your attorney to go over them;
- Schedule your signing meeting as soon as possible after you’ve reviewed your documents;
- … and then actually go to the signing meeting and execute your documents. 🙂
If your family is important enough to you that you’re willing to start the estate planning process, it should be important enough for you to see that process through to the end in a timely manner.
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Ready to make sure everything’s in order for your loved ones in the event you become incapacitated or die? Give Manasota Elder Law a call at 941-444-5958. We’ll help you determine whether you’re all set, or whether there are still some things that need to be done to protect what’s most important to you … your family.