I am often reminded that too many attorneys treat estate planning as a product and not a process. They present clients with a cookie-cutter estate plan that comes in a fancy binder and includes dozens of pages of legal jargon, none of which is probably even read or understood. Furthermore, there is little or no follow-up to make sure that the client does what he or she is supposed to do. Years later, when the client has a simple question or needs a copy of a document, the answer comes with a cost.
I strongly believe that estate planning is a process. It starts with a meeting, where we ask questions and listen to the answers. Instead of rushing, we take the time to prepare drafts of the appropriate documents. We send these drafts, with a summary explanation memorandum, to the client. The client reads the documents or the summary and, if needed, meets with us again to ask questions or to discuss changes. If a trust was created, we discuss with the client what assets need to be transferred to what trust and whom the beneficiary of life insurance or retirement accounts should be. In doing so, we ensure that the assets will be transferred to the correct person(s) as directed by the estate planning documents. When the documents are correct, the client signs them.
We follow the signing up with an email or letter, enclosing copies of the documents and reiterating the instructions of assets transfers and beneficiary designations. Then, for a year after the documents are signed, if the client paid us a project fee, we will continue to answer questions regarding the documents and the instructions on asset transfers and beneficiary designations. Many times, we will actually review or complete the beneficiary designations if the client has provided us with the form.
It is of utmost importance to us that our clients always know what they are signing and that their assets are accurately coordinated with their estate plan. And our work doesn’t end once papers are signed. Through social media, our blog and our annual letter to clients, we keep our clients informed of any changes to state and/or Federal laws that might impact them and remind them to keep us informed of any changes in their lives that might require updating their plan (which should be reviewed by us every four years anyway).
Product or Process: Which one is right for you?