Many of the people I meet tell me that they liked how I come to see them, and that was a deciding factor in choosing me to prepare their estate plan. I am happy to hear my approach to serving clients is working. That said, traveling to see people isn’t without its own problems. In my travels, I sometimes meet people who are unable to get out, so they call me. Many of these individuals have waited to the last minute (or even longer!) to make an appointment to get their estate planning done, which makes for some exciting adventures. In this blog I’ll share adventures you want to avoid as you plan for the road ahead. Oh yes, cautionary tales of waiting too long await!
Trusting Your Attorney
I met with a potential client recently who decided I was a good person to lecture on how he had acquired his house several years ago. He repeated this story at least 10 times in the hour we met. I listened to the story and heard him conclude with how he wanted his assets protected, and how I needed to make that happen. We discussed what we could do to reflect his wishes, and set up an estate plan to make that happen. He seemed quite happy and jovial — ready to work with me — until I mentioned the cost associated for preparing his will and other estate planning documents.
Suddenly he started accusing me of being a crook and being there to steal his money. Despite my efforts to reassure him that the price was quite reasonable, and his sister’s efforts to confirm what I was saying he would have none of it. I was a crook and he sent on my way. The sister apologized, but all I could do was laugh at the silliness of all of it. I suspect his mental state may have been further deteriorated than I originally observed and anticipated, and it certainly was an adventure to be thrown out of a house a a thief.
My response: I do realize most people think of attorneys as drains on society, but this seemed a bit too personal!
In this case, the potential client seemed able to understand what he wanted, and seemed to think that I would be able to help him…right up until he grasped that my services would cost money. At that point, I think the beginnings of memory loss sprung up and a little bit of paranoia crept in prevent him from taking the necessary step of setting up an estate plan. Instead of us setting up an estate plan to reflect his wishes, he will probably end up passing away without an estate plan or will, so the Colorado Intestate Statutes (these statutes control what happens to your assets when you die without a will) will control what happens to his property upon his death.
Based on the story he told me, his assets will go to someone other than who he desires, because the statutory rules are different than what he told me he wants. This potential client apparently waited too long to start his estate plan. He may change his mind and still get it done. That’s not something that cannot happen for the client in my next adventure.
Understanding Urgency and Finishing What You Start
Earlier this year, I had a client whose daughter called me and wanted me to go visit the client at the client’s house. I was perfectly happy to do so. I had what I thought was a good meeting. However, the daughter was a bit shocked that I had not brought my computer, printer, notary, witnesses, and everything else she thought was necessary to complete and sign her father’s estate planning documents with me on our initial visit. She apparently thought that we would meet, fill in a couple of forms, and be done. I explained that is not how my process for estate planning works, and that I would want to have a conversation with the parent to figure out what the parent wanted to do in an estate plan. After gathering information and discussing alternatives, I would be able to work on drafting the documents, and I would return to get them signed another day.
Unfortunately, the day for signing came too late for her father. The client passed away two days after our first visit. Granted, he had been fighting liver cancer for two years, and had a stroke 6 months prior to meeting him, but the timing of our meeting was terrible. I wish I had met him a week or two prior to when I did, so that I could have completed his planning. As it stood, his estate would need to go through intestate probate, as his will was not complete. My notes were not enough to constitute a valid will, and they did not have legal force, so the client’s last minute efforts were for naught. A will needs to be completed and signed in the proper manner for the will to be valid and enforceable. My notes from our meeting were not enough. We needed to complete the process to have a valid, completed will.
My advice: Don’t let this happen to you…get your estate plan done before it’s too late!
The daughter blamed me for the whole thing, indicating that it was somehow my fault that the estate plan had not been completed. She told me I should have completed it sooner, and that I needed to refund all of the money paid. I disagreed. Fee disagreements are not fun for anyone. I had met with the client, drafted the documents, and sent the documents to the daughter for review. In my opinion, that meant that I had completed my contractual obligations and done almost all of the work I had been hired to do. I thought my fees had been earned. The daughter vehemently disagreed. Although I wanted to help the daughter and get her through the process, she was more interested in being upset with me than completing the probate process to distribute her father’s assets. Because of her bereavement and anger, this became quite the adventure.
I understand that the daughter was upset at the loss of her father, and that she was taking out her anger on me, which I believe psychologists refer to as “projection” or “transference,” but she still screamed at me. I wish I had met them some time in the two previous years, so that we could have completed the estate plan and ensured her father’s assets would go where he wanted. Unfortunately, by the time we tried to get the estate plan done, it was too late.
We talked and I offered to help guide her through the probate process while keeping the full fee. She rejected that offer and demanded at least half of the fee payment be returned to her – as her father had paid in full up front. I obliged her request, and sent her a refund. The refund check was made out to her father’s estate, but has never been cashed, so I assume the poor daughter never did figure out how to go through probate. I would have helped her, but she made it clear that my continued representation was not a good idea. I strongly suspect my further involvement would only have made things worse.
My take: I like to work with clients who want to work with me and who are pleasant.
I think this makes me reasonable, but what do I know? I think most people would agree with me that they want to work with people they know, like, and trust. Even last minute, I want to work with people who like me, and who I like.
All of these adventures lead me to this conclusion: Get your estate planning done before it’s too late, or you could end up as one of my unpleasant adventure stories!