You’ve probably heard this from your estate planning clients occasionally: “I don’t need an estate plan, because I don’t have a big estate.” That’s a persistent myth that we, as estate planning attorneys, need to chip away at, one client at a time. It starts the minute someone walks into your office.
They might be there to just get a Will drafted, but the picture is a lot bigger than that, even if your client does not recognize it. This is when you have the chance to point out to them (gently) that they “do” have an estate, everyone does, and that estate planning doesn’t have to involve millions of dollars to be worthwhile.
This persistent, and annoyingly common, misconception about what constitutes an estate seems to come up frequently. People think that if they don’t own a huge house, multiple vehicles, art, antiques, jewelry, and other financial investments, that they don’t have an estate. The truth is, we “all” have estates, even those with a modest home, one car, one good piece of art, a diamond ring, and some money tucked away in the bank.
Those without great wealth still need quality estate planning and elder law planning. That is our job and, more importantly it is our vocation. Our goal is to provide our services to those in need. The trick is to get them to understand they “are” in need of help, a task we can accomplish by demonstrating how we are able to assist them. The simple truth, as we explain it, is that an estate is everything a person owns when they die, and that includes, but is not limited to, bank accounts, personal property, a home, retirement plans and so forth.
It is a lesson for clients to understand that dying without a Will, or living trust, means that the state dictates how their belongings are dispersed. Many would be horrified to know that, as their intentions would be to bequeath their estate to certain designated individuals – spouse, children, parents, relatives.
Showing your clients what can be done with proper estate planning is better than telling them. Once your clients see the benefits they reap from estate planning and elder law planning, word-of-mouth will see more clients pay your office a visit.
For more information, take a look at his recent article in Forbes.
Stephen C. Hartnett, J.D., LL.M.
Associate Director of Education
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.
9444 Balboa Avenue, Suite 300
San Diego, California 92123
Phone: (800) 846-1555
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