OK, OK, OK, we’ve been sitting here for almost an hour and you’ve been asking me all kinds of questions about my family and my goals and my situation. Why do you need all of this information?
I need this information so that I can see what is most important to you, and to make sure that your family is taken care of in the way that you want.
But you are making this so complicated! I just want to leave everything to my wife and she just wants to leave everything to me. Why can’t we just each write that down on a piece of paper and be done with it?
As your lawyer, my job is to be your zealous advocate. This means that I have to be as thorough as I can to find out how I can best fulfill your needs. I take all of this information you provide me and combine it with the requirements of state and federal law to create a personal set of documents that will best help you and your family control and pass along assets exactly how you would want.
Come on! I give my wife and my children gifts every birthday and during the holidays, and I don’t need to sign paperwork in dozens of places, I don’t need witnesses and I don’t need a notary public to do it! How hard is it to just give everything to my wife?
OK, let’s talk about that. What did you give your wife and three kids for each of their most recent birthdays?
Uh, let’s see. I gave my wife some jewelry that she wanted. My wife and I got my son a bunch of fishing gear, and we got my two daughters a day at a spa. We also gave each of the kids $100 in cash.
And ma’am, what did you give your husband for his last birthday?
I got him two season tickets for the Phillies games this year.
What an outstanding gift! You really seem to care about your husband and you also seem to have great taste and a keen eye for excellence!
Anyways, sir, what if your son took the fishing gear, sold it on ebay, took the proceeds and the cash and lost it all at a poker game?
He would never do that! He loves fishing!
I don’t doubt it. But let’s say times were tough. Or maybe he thinks the poker game is easy money. Who knows? Just indulge me – how would you feel about that?
OK, I’ll bite. I’d be outraged, I’d make him give me my money back and I would think long and hard before I gave him any gifts again!
Would you react the same way if your daughters exchanged their spa day for cash and used it for gambling, or a drug habit, or to pay money to a cult, or …
Or to give it to their husbands to grow that ridiculous website business they keep talking about! Yeah, I’d react the same way. But before you go on, believe me, I’m never selling those Phillies tickets, and my wife is never selling that jewelry!
Are you sure she won’t sell the jewelry? What if you are gone and she needed the money?
Well, that shouldn’t happen; I’ve got insurance.
Yes you do. But can you guarantee 100% that you will always be able to pay the premiums? Or that she wouldn’t need the insurance proceeds for something else? What if you were gone and one of your kids got into debt? What if your kids got divorced or lost their jobs and your wife wanted to help out? What if she got remarried and gave her new husband all of that cash for a business or a boat? Can you guarantee that none of this will happen?
I don’t think any of this would happen, but no, I cannot guarantee it. Honey, I certainly don’t want you giving some new husband that insurance money – we’ve agreed that that money is for you and the kids!
OK, good. So the reason I ask all of these questions and want so much detail is so that I can get a sense of what you would want to happen in any and all of those kinds of situations. You say you wouldn’t want your son to gamble your gift. You say you wouldn’t want your daughters giving your gift to their husbands. You say you don’t want your wife to give away your jewelry gift or the insurance proceeds.
Well, by just giving your wife everything, you are giving her full license to do whatever she wants with your assets. She is doing the same by giving you all of hers. Further, if the survivor of the two of you leaves your kids with all your remaining assets outright, they will have the full freedom to do anything they want with them as well. If this is not what you want, then we need to find that out before we can create any documents.
Your estate plan involves much more than a birthday, Christmas or Hanukkah gift because it is your final gift to your loved ones and it is permanent. Your plan is your only chance to tell the world just how you do and don’t want your assets to be used after you are gone.
OK, now I understand. Let’s get back to work…
- Simple Estate Planning May Not Be So Simple After All (wills.about.com)
- Estate Plan? Don’t I Just Need a Will? (oarlaw.wordpress.com)
- Why Do People Use Lawyers to Prepare Their Wills? (www.texaswillsandtrustslaw.com)