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6 Lessons from an Estate Litigator

| March 09, 2020
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Will your family have good Christmases and Thanksgivings after you are gone? Most of us would like to think so. We never want to believe our kids would fight over money or possessions. We ask this very question as we go through our Legacy Planning Process. The answer is almost always the same. Yes. Our kids get along. Then we ask another question: What plan have you put in place to make sure this happens? This answer is also almost always the same…cricket…cricket

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

We wish our family to have good Christmases and Thanksgivings after we are gone. They might even do so without a plan. Then again - life happens, things change, people change. Check out these ‘what-if’ questions:

  • What if one of your kids is struggling financially when you pass while the one in charge is too busy to get things done in a timely manner? We have seen it and the family still doesn’t talk today.
  • What if one of your kids has a spouse that puts pressure on them to squeeze out every penny they can? We have seen it and the family still doesn’t talk today.
  • What if one of your kids get kicked in the head by a horse and turns a little crazy? We have seen it and the brothers still don’t talk today.
  • What if one of your kids gets the idea that they were the one who made the sacrifices for you, or the farm, or the business and feel they are owed more than their siblings? We have seen it and the family still doesn’t talk today.
  • What if your kids have never told you they really don’t like your new wife and thinks she should get nothing? We have seen it and the family still doesn’t talk today.

A fellow advisor once told me, “We owe it to our clients to push back harder when they make bad decisions and we know it.” Not having a plan for good Christmases and Thanksgivings is a bad decision.

Don’t just take it from us. Take it from an estate litigator, who actually gets paid to fight these battles. Here are six absolutes in his book:

  1. Fair is not always equal. In fact, most of the time it isn’t.
  2. Clean up your messes. Do you want your children to remember you for you or your messes?
  3. Buy cash to solve problems. Life insurance can uncomplicate things easily because money talks.
  4. Involve your kids and any other heirs early in your planning and in making important decisions. Everyone needs to be on the same page.
  5. Don’t procrastinate. If you wait to plan, it might be too late. It also may begin to stir bad blood before yours is cold.
  6. Use your hot air while you still have it. Some things need explaining or else…

After reading this, you may have a reason why you don’t have a plan. Most of the time the reason is not because you haven’t thought about it. Most of the time there a piece of your planning that you can’t stomach and don’t want to address. The question is… What will happen if you don’t do this?

Remember that you can’t let perfect be the enemy of good. You may never find perfect and you need something good. You may never be able to say what needs to be said to your kids or make things equal. This is why we do what we do. Our Legacy Planning Process isn’t about just writing the documents that you need done. It is about your Legacy—preserving that Legacy and ensuring that good Christmases and Thanksgivings will continue after you are gone. Don’t just have a wish. Have a plan!

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