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The Montana Estate Lawyer

Friday, February 9, 2018

Estate Planning - The Best Plan is YOUR Plan

Here are some tips on maintaining control while in the process of putting together your estate plan, as set forth in Keith’s book, “Introduction to Estate Planning – How to Protect and Pass on Your Legacy,” Bardolf & Company, 2017.

Once your attorney has really listened and helped you uncover your most important concerns, then it's the attorney's job to bring solutions to the table. All your planning team members will have suggestions about what you should do and how you should do it. They will be familiar with jargon that is new—and confusing—to you. Hopefully they'll be good at explaining their ideas.

But it must be clear throughout who is in charge of your planning: YOU. No matter what, everyone should agree upfront and be constantly working to maintain your control of the process throughout. That means that you understand the process, that your advisors give you the benefit of their thoughts, in language you can understand, that you and your advisors take as long as necessary to flesh out the issues, and gain clarity on what to do about them, and that you understand your planning documents and other "deliverables." In other words, the end product is your plan, not anyone else's. Anytime you feel out of control or confused, the process is not working properly. Fixing the problem may be as simple as taking a few minutes to go over a tax concept using a diagram. Or it may be as serious as your advisors trying to foist upon you a plan that you're not comfortable with, but feel helpless to resist.

Understandable English and Diagrams

            Part of staying in control is understanding what people are saying and writing. Lawyers deal in written documents using specialized legal jargon that is hard to understand, right? That may be true generally, but it shouldn't be for your estate planning lawyer.

It's not up to you to guess what arcane words and concepts mean. It's up to your attorney to explain, so that you understand. Your attorney needs to speak and write in understandable English to make sure you, and everyone else involved, know how your planning works. The idea is not to make the attorney look smart, it’s to communicate clearly so that you feel like you've been heard, and that you truly understand the solutions being suggested.

So, documents that use language that you understand is a minimum. In our office we take it to the next step and use diagrams to describe how your plan will work. It's amazing how much clearer your planning is when you can see a picture of how it works. We've found our diagrams to be helpful to our clients and also a great tool to use when we meet later with family members who haven't been involved in the planning process.

An Attorney Who Follows a Process

            We have one more suggestion about how you can stay in control. Work with an attorney who follows a defined process. Estate planning is too complicated for you and your team to just bounce around from topic to topic in never-ending conversations. Using a defined process will help you identify the most important issues and get your planning done in a timely and efficient manner. It may have taken you a while to finally sit down to do estate planning. Part of your attorney's job is to help you get your planning done without any more delay.

Working through a process will allow you to always know what's going on and where you're headed. That will allow you to feel in control. You will know what the planning will involve, what the steps are, what each party's responsibilities are, how long the process will last, and, of course, what it will cost. That way at each step you'll be able to make the best decisions.

For a complete breakdown of our process control-click here: http://montanaestatelawyer.com/lawyer/2017/12/08/Basics-of-good-planning/Our-Living-Trust-Planning-Process_bl32535.htm

Jon



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