Last weekend I went up into the mountains and looked at a couple of mountain homes / cabins to potentially purchase. I have always been a bit jealous of friends whose families had cabins, and they got to go up to the cabin for a weekend, or longer during the summer. Thus, the trip into the mountains to see what was available. I had looked up properties on the internet and identified a couple that looked interesting. So, I contacted a realtor and set up showings. We set off to see the houses, and made a couple of interesting discoveries.
When we got to the first house, we explored the land and then went inside of the house. The house was nice, and looked like the pictures from the internet, but everything appeared smaller than we expected. While the house wasn’t bad, it was a bit disappointing. The second house we visited was the complete opposite. We had liked the price and the location, so we went to compare, but the internet pictures of the second house were not all that enticing. However, the second house looked awesome in person. The rooms were bigger, and the color schemes all worked together. The current owner is an artist and the separate pictures just did not do the whole house justice. We were struck by the importance of seeing things in person.
The same goes for estate planning.
In this time of social distancing, safer at home practices, and virtual everything, even if you cannot meet in person, there is no substitute for having a good, personal relationship with your estate planning attorney. Online options are great for many areas of life, but just doing your estate plan online leaves something lacking. You want to have someone who knows what they are doing set up your estate plan. You want someone who may see things you don’t and can plan for them. You also want someone who you can call if something goes wrong, and someone who will support you in your estate plan. You want to have a genuine, personal relationship with your estate planning attorney.
Online Everything? Just Not Your Estate Plan
I was in college during the late 1990s and early 2000s when the internet really was taking off. I remember seeing flyers in the economics department calling for papers about the “new economy” and how everything was changing. As one who is often not an early adopter of technology, I somewhat scoffed, thinking, “The internet is like everything else…it will come down to earth.” And, it did. This isn’t to say the internet has not changed a lot of things. It most certainly has changed how we do business and interact with each other, but the internet does have shortcomings.
Specifically, the internet provides more impersonal interaction than you want for an estate plan. If you go to an online estate planning website, then the website will ask you a series of questions and prepare a will or estate plan for you based on those answers. Whether you understand the questions being asked, or give answers that properly respond to the questions asked, is not addressed by the website itself. Some may have someone available to answer questions, but most do not. Most of the websites will let you know that they are self help websites, and do not offer legal advice. When you are looking for legal advice, and someone to handle a matter as important as your estate plan, I recommend working with a person, not a website.
You Want to Work With an Estate Planning Attorney Who Knows What To Do
Instead of working with an impersonal website that gives you canned questions, and spits out a one size fits all form, you are much better working with an estate planning attorney who knows what questions to ask. And, you want an estate planning attorney who knows the right follow up questions to ask. I have often asked someone a question, gotten a clear answer right away, and moved on. Later, during the same discussion, I discovered that the clear answer did not really reflect what the person truly wanted. I then revisited the first question and repeated what they told me at first. Together, we usually can see how the initial question was misinterpreted, or might not have captured everything, and it is good we talked through things.
I also ask questions that people have not considered until I ask the question. I cannot tell you how many times I hear, “Oh, good question, I never thought of that” during a day filled with in person meetings. I take the time to explore such questions more deeply and talk through options with people. As an experienced estate planning attorney, I am aware of situations and things that can come up in an estate plan that most people don’t see. I try not to be the attorney who dwells on all the things that can go wrong. However, I do know how to avoid a lot of common problems. I can guide you through an unfamiliar process and preempt potential issues.
You Want Someone Who Will be There to Fix Things
In an ideal world, once an estate plan is set up, nothing would ever go wrong. There would be no misunderstandings, no changes, no disagreements, and no worries. Unfortunately, that is not how the world works, and estate planning is no different. If something changes in your life situation, you will want someone to call who can help you solve the problem.
In estate planning, not every problem can be solved if too many things have changed. For instance, I had a client who passed away this month. He had delayed signing his estate planning documents for 6 months, and the estate planning documents remained incomplete when he died. His relatives called me and asked what they could do to get them done, and one even said, “I have a text message that he sent telling me he executed the documents via text…does that help?” It did not. His relatives will need to go through intestate probate, which means my client died without a will. It is unfortunate that we were not able to complete his estate plan, but I was able to point them in the right directions, and I offered to help with the process of getting his estate settled.
Many problems that arise are a matter of going through the process in the correct way, or trying again. I recently encouraged a client to call their bank and ask for someone who specializes in estate matters and not just take the first person on the phone’s answer as the final answer. The client was willing to pay me to take over working with the bank, but my advice saved them time and money in getting through to someone. An experienced estate planning attorney can help solve problems, but many times I am only able to help if I know how I set things up and know how to navigate the problem.
A Personal Relationship is Key
I always want to look you in the eye, and see how I can help. I am sure you want to do the same with someone handling an important matter like your estate plan. I want to answer your questions, and I want to make sure what you want gets put into place. Whether we do that in person, or via Zoom, or in some combination, please let me help you get what you want. This matter is too important to leave to the anonymous, impersonal internet alone. Let me help you get your estate plan done right!