For almost 12 years, I’ve been writing about basic estate planning.
For those of you who are regular readers, you know that most of it isn’t exactly brain surgery. Sure there are a lot of sophisticated estate planning techniques out there, and smart lawyers and accountants are coming up with new ones all of the time. However, for most of us, basic estate planning is what is needed.
Hopefully you also know estate planning is more than just getting your stuff to your loved ones. It’s about planning for the unexpected and living the Boy Scout motto “Be prepared." With that in mind, we execute powers of attorney and living wills. We appoint people to make medical decisions for us when we can’t make them for ourselves and even plan our funerals.
In the end, it’s all about the peace of mind that comes with knowing that your affairs are in order.
When I meet with clients, we have a broad discussion about their situation and their options. They tell me their family secrets and concerns knowing I’ll keep their confidence and hopefully offer a solution. When I go to wakes and funerals, it’s kind of a weird feeling when you shake the hand of a son or daughter knowing that you know things about their parent that they don’t.
It’s a special relationship an attorney and a client have. I can’t tell you where your mom met and fell in love with your father or where they went on their first date. But I know the concern that she has about your drinking. I know your mom’s deep commitment to seeing her grandchildren have the means to pay for college. I know the disappointment your mom has carried with her since you failed to go see Aunt Jane in the hospital before she died.
Experience also tells me it’s not an easy thing to open up to a stranger. You are assured your attorney will keep your confidence. It’s one of the pillars of the practice of law and, in case that isn’t enough, it’s backed up by the Rules of Professional Conduct. If an attorney violates a client’s confidence, he or she can be on the business end of the disciplinary committee. Trust me when I say no attorney wants that.
So what does all of this mean to you? It means when you select an estate planning attorney, you need to look at more than just his or her skill level. Most attorneys can do basic estate planning. However, it’s also important to consider how you feel about the attorney personally and whether you can open up to them.
On the surface you’ll know he’s not going to blab your secrets, but you should still have a comfort level with your adviser. Only you will know if you can connect on a personal level with the attorney.
If you can’t make that connection, perhaps it’s time to consider a different lawyer. In the end, your attorney wants to know that you have been open and honest with him or her. If you can’t do that, my guess is the attorney would rather you go to someone who you can open up to.