It is difficult to overestimate the importance of communication. We all know it is essential for lawyers to communicate with their clients. It is only through such communication that the client knows what is going on with their case. The lack of such communication is a leading cause of bar complaints and malpractice suits. But, clients often do not know that it is also essential for them to communicate with their loved ones about their estate planning.
It is difficult to think about one’s own mortality. It is even more difficult to talk about it. That is why clients don’t like talking about the plans they’ve made to address what should happen in the event of their incapacity or death.
The problem is that client goals may be diminished or even thwarted without such communication. For example, clients almost uniformly want peace and harmony among family members after the client’s death or disability. The best way to achieve that goal is through… communication.
A surprise in the disposition of assets or the selection of those to serve in key roles, such as trustee, can disrupt family peace and harmony. Long-buried hostilities may resurface. Sibling rivalry, which had seemed long-vanquished, can rise again. Does the choice of one sibling rather than the other as trustee indicate that “mom loved you best”? If mom explains her reasoning in person, the matter may be settled relatively easily. However, if mom is dead or in a coma, she cannot explain her choice. Then, the emotions due to mom’s death or incapacity and the emotions of anger and fear can become mixed and amplified. Before you know it, the family’s peace and harmony is shattered, which is exactly what mom did not want to happen: family conflict.
Communicate with your clients. And, encourage your clients to communicate their wishes to their loved ones. It’s the best way for them to achieve their goals.
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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