I work with a fair number of financial advisors, insurance professionals and CPA/accountants. One of the services I provide for those valued planning partners is to review their client’s existing estate plans (where I was not the attorney or scrivener) and give my opinion on the documents they have. The review is my way of helping out people I consider to be friends. I won’t do this for folks coming off the street. The result of my review is a detailed opinion letter (usually between 10 and 20 pages) that the planning partner can use in discussions with their clients. Sometimes it results in work for me as the new planner, but more often it’s just something that I do without the expectation that I get any work out of it.
This kind of review is usually pretty easy for me to do because most estate plans are 1 of 3 kinds of forms that I have seen time and time again. Occasionally, I get tripped up when the font is different that I’m used to (those tricky form-fillers!), but once I get reading the text I can recognize it as “Form1” or “Form2” – you get the idea.
What I find surprising is how many times I see the same bad or misused clauses in plan after plan after plan. Look, I won’t try to convince that every estate plan should be created from whole cloth every time. There is incredible value in using clauses that are tested, and in fact, many of my estate plans look very similar. However, the art of the documents is in my counseling and assessment of the situation.
The best analogy I can think of is that of a doctor and her prescription pad. When you visit the doctor, I hope you will agree that it’s not for access to the prescription pad carried in the front pocket of his white gown. Most of the time, the pills you need might even be found over-the-counter. The real value is in the doctor’s diagnostic skill in evaluating your condition and needs. Maybe the headache is from lack of sleep, maybe you have a tumor – but you won’t be able to know the difference if the doctor does nothing but leave her prescription pad out for you to fill out on your own.
Competent estate planners have invested time, energy and money into learning our art very well. The value is not in the ability to be word processing wizards with a stack of forms, but in the diagnostic skill we can bring to bear on your family’s situation and figure out what documents, counseling and monitoring is required to achieve your particular goals.
You wouldn’t fill out your own prescription, nor would you trust a doctor who did nothing but use the same therapeutic approach no matter the client – your estate plan warrants the same care and attention. Insist on an estate planner that will treat your situation as thorough as the top doctor in your area.
Posted by Victor Medina, Medina Law Group, LLC