It is in my engagement of the services of others that I have learned a valuable lesson that I believe is easily translatable to anyone considering creating or modifying their estate plan: we all need help in areas that we are not expert.
There are things that you can do and there are things that you should do; and they are not always the same. Sometimes these things become conflated in the moment, and you feel that just because you can do something that you should do that thing.
For example; just because you can install an HVAC system that is more powerful than you need for the size of your house, should you? The “Tim the Tool Guy” types will make gorilla noises and provide an emphatic “Yes” and install the most powerful system they can afford (in my family and friends circle this has become known as “Johnsoning it”). However, in doing so, you may be creating a host of problems for yourself to include: 1) overuse of your power resources, 2) continuous cycling of the system, strong blasts of hot or cold air, 3) unnecessary mechanical systems that require additional servicing and/or cost more to fix when they break down, etc.
The same is true when you approach your estate plan. Maybe that Charitable Remainder Trust you read so much about may not be your best option. Or maybe your estate of over $1,000,000 in gross value would be better suited with a revocable living trust than a Will due to the cost and nature of probate.
Often, prospective clients will come to our first meeting with their Google list of what they have diagnosed as their issue and the appropriate solution, as per their internet sleuthing. Now, don’t get me wrong, I truly appreciate when prospective clients have already shown an interest in their estate plan and have done their reading and research before our first meeting. However, what I find counterproductive is when their reading/research has hardened their resolve into one concrete direction from which they are unable or unwilling to consider alternatives or modifications.
Maybe that self-proclaimed internet “expert” that they are basing so much of the foundation for their strategy is just an un-vetted crackpot who had a bad personal experience with an estate situation and now they are taking it out on anyone else that will listen to their rantings.
The beauty of what I do is that there are so many options and strategies to choose from when constructing an estate plan. The difficulty is knowing which option and strategy is correct and how it can be tailored for the client’s specific circumstance and goals. There is value in what I know as a practitioner and in the experiences I have had as a professional that a Google search will not provide.
When you have engaged one to assist you, please consider the value of their experience and training that is being brought to bear on your behalf. Chances are, your estate planning expert has seen, heard and experienced whatever it is you believe you are the first to think up and is in a good position to identify potential unintended consequences and the extent to which it will achieve your objectives.
The important point to take away from this little tirade of mine is this: just because you are a smart and capable person it doesn’t that mean you should take your own legal counsel and disregard your attorney’s advice out of hand. This is such a big problem historically with lawyers representing themselves, that we even have a saying about it in the profession: “he who represents himself has a fool for a client.”