In recent reflection, I've been considering what I appreciate most about being an Estate Planning Attorney. I think the best part about being an Estate Planning Attorney is that I get to have personable one-on-one conversations with many people from all walks and stages of life. This includes, but isn't limited to:
Farmers and those who own land wanting to safely transfer their land to the next generation,
People that have had long, successful careers and looking at retiring soon,
Doctors and other professionals,
Young couples starting families,
Individuals with no children wanting to give their estates to family and charity,
And many others...
I really enjoy listening to my clients talk about their families, assets, and Estate Planning goals. I also enjoy explaining how Estate Planning works and guiding my clients through the Estate Planning process. It's so fulfilling to see the look of relief across my clients' faces once they've signed their Estate Planning documents.
Throughout the last 8 years, I have helped over 500 households complete their Estate Plans - roughly translating to completed Estate Plans for over 750 people!
This means that over the last 8 years, I have had more than 1500 Estate Planning Conversations!
With an abundance of conversations, I realize that I've made 3 Important Discoveries from these Estate Plan Conversations. Here is what I've discovered:
Discovery 1 - A Good Estate Planning Attorney is Also a Great Teacher.
Estate Planning education doesn't exist in our society. It isn't taught in high school or college. People have heard about Wills, Trusts, and Probate, but they are never told what these things are and how Estate Planning actually works.
In the first half of my legal career, I practiced Business and Real Estate Law. Back then, even as an attorney, I didn't know how Estate Planning worked!
I didn't understand Estate Planning until I educated myself and started working on Estate Plans every day as part of my legal practice.
I estimate that 80% of my job is educating my clients on how Estate Planning works.
As a result, I have curated my client meetings in specific ways (including the use of customized Estate Plan diagrams) to help explain complicated Estate Planning concepts to my clients in simple, easy to understand terms.
Discovery 2 - The Best Estate Plan is the Simplest Plan That Will Achieve the Client's Estate Planning Goals.
A "simple" Estate Plan is easier to understand, easier to implement, and has much less room for error. Every one of my clients has wanted the simplest plan that could achieve their Estate Planning goals.
In "simple" terms, Estate Planning is about how to transfer assets when one passes in the most efficient and beneficial way to that person's heirs or beneficiaries.
Assets can be transferred through Wills, Trusts, Joint Ownership, or Beneficiary Designations.
The "simpler" ways of transferring assets (such as Wills and Beneficiary Designations) have limitations when it comes to important Estate Planning goals such as reducing estate taxes, asset protection, and asset preservation.
Ultimately, we are looking for that perfect balance between simplicity and a plan that will carry out a client's Estate Planning goals. The first question I help my clients answer is if they need a "will-based" plan or a "trust-based" plan - a simpler plan or a more complex plan.
After having 1500 Estate Planning conversations, I have learned exactly how to walk my clients through the pros and cons of each type of plan and how each plan works. Most of the time, we can answer the "Will vs. Trust" question after one meeting.
Discovery 3 - Most Estate Plans Fall Under 1 of 20 Core Estate Planning Scenarios.
After having 1500 Estate Planning Conversations, I began to recognize patterns within Estate Planning. Each person and family is unique. Every individual and every family has their own Estate Planning goals and concerns, but most situations fall within a pattern I've identified. With this being said, I can assign a unique pattern, or Estate Planning Scenario, to each client's specific needs once we've spoken and I've had the opportunity to learn more about them. Questions that are crucial to choosing the right Scenario for clients are as follows:
Are you married?
Do you have children - if so, how old are they?
Do you have a blended family?
Do you own a business?
Did you just have a baby?
Are you approaching retirement?
Is your estate over or under $1 Million, $4 Million, or $12 Million?
Do you have a troubled beneficiary? (A beneficiary that is in prison or has a drug problem)
Do you have a large retirement account?
Do you own farmland or other investment real estate?
With the different answers to these questions, I have created around 20 Core Estate Planning Scenarios to reference for new clients. These are based on past clients' needs, specific situations, and Estate Planning goals and challenges. Each scenario is comprised of a combination of Wills, Trusts, and other customized Estate Planning Documents to be used as a starting point to address a client's particular Estate Planning needs.
There aren't many Estate Plan Scenarios I haven't seen at this point. I take the knowledge and experience that I have gathered over the last 1500 Estate Planning Conversations to create the most simple Estate Plan for clients that will successfully achieve their Estate Planning goals. With every new client I meet, I have new information to add to my knowledge base and my knowledge base keeps on growing.
The 1500 Estate Planning Conversations I've had have taught me much more about Estate Planning than law school ever did.
Being a Good Estate Planning Attorney is about being a good communicator, counselor, and teacher. It is understanding the value of creating the simplest Estate Planning solution that will achieve the client's goals.
It is about having enough knowledge and experience to see the patterns of Estate Planning and knowing how to best counsel a client based upon their specific Estate Planning Scenario.
With all of this being said, would you want your Estate Planning done by someone that has not had1500 Estate Planning Conversations?
This article is a service of Attorney Chad A. Ritchie and the Ritchie Law Office, Ltd.
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