coryBy Cory Howes

Many people—too many—view estate planning as a transaction. They hear that they need a will, so they go about obtaining one. Or they have a situational need arise, one that provokes obtaining powers of attorney or a living trust.

I’m here to tell you that the best estate planning comes from engaging in a lifelong process. As an attorney focused on this area with my practice, I see the best planning happen when I’m able to get to know my clients on a deeper level—one that doesn’t happen simply over the course of a single document transaction—so that I can uncover their true hopes, dreams, aspirations, and even their fears. Over the course of a long relationship, we are able to see together that these motivations and ambitions are subject to change over time, with subtlety in some areas and dramatically in others (think about how many among you have children after many years of declaring that you’d never have them!).

So, the best estate planning is proactive, long-term in nature and process-based, instead of transaction-oriented reactions to life events. As we build a relationship together, planning becomes more of a reflection of your family and its values, versus getting documents in order.

I’m personally a big fan of taking a look at your estate plan at the beginning of the year. Whether it’s part of a New Year’s resolution or simply the feeling of renewal that each year brings, I find that people seem to allot more attention to planning for their lives early in the year. Also, I’ve observed a certain power that comes from planning. When estate plans are carefully conceived, they tend to come true. A plan can serve as a guide, helping to align our deepest values, beliefs and goals with our financial resources. In turn, we can realize our dreams in a way that allows us to live richer, fuller lives–personally, professionally, financially and spiritually.

Here are some organizing principles that can drive your estate planning.

  • Deliberate about what matters most to you. Potential scenarios can challenge your thinking. For example, if you had all the money you needed, what would you do with it? Or, if you had only a few years left to live, how would you spend them?
  • As you envision the future, remove any doubts or cynicism and craft your ideal life, giving as much detail as possible. Having this attitude and approach can energize you to achieve your vision in the shortest time possible. Goals become more immediate and vibrant, versus something simply hoped for at some point.
  • Work with a thoughtful professional, someone who can help you identify obstacles and roadblocks that may be keeping you from achieving your vision. A sound professional can help you differentiate real obstacles from internal beliefs you may hold that unnecessarily undermine your ambitions.
  • Know that an experienced professional can recommend the best and different ways to achieve your goals. Quite often, this professional will collaborate with other professionals from different disciplines to make sure all of the needs are being met. For example, if you work with an estate planning attorney, your attorney will routinely coordinate your affairs with your financial advisor, insurance agent, accountant, and other experts.
  • A solid planning relationship requires consideration and effective communication from both ends. An estate planning professional will ask open-ended questions and listen carefully to your answers. You, on the other hand, will need to be open, honest, and willing to make an emotional connection, with both the professional and with him/herself (if you treat this advisor as a vendor and not your partner, you’ll create a more transactional experience). If you’re successful in building your relationship over time, you’ll benefit from advice you can trust for many years, possibly even into the next generation.

If you’re considering your future and looking for an estate planning professional to walk you through a lifelong process that results in achieving your hopes and dreams, email me at the Forrest Firm today.