When I was a little kid, I used to sing the song, “The Wheels on the Bus.” I would sing about the wheels on the bus going round and round, the wipers on the bus going swish, swish, swish, the driver on the bus, and the people on the bus. When I became a parent, I sang the same song to my children, and we made up many more verses of the song. Family bonding over the song seemed like a good idea. I think my children have outgrown signing, “The Wheels on the Bus” by now, as they are a bit older, but I still think about that song and sing it when I see a bus driving in the rain.
From school field trips, or rides to and from school, or even just getting around town, most, if not all of us, know what it is like to travel on the bus. (Traveling by bus is our analogy to estate planning in this blog post…I will get there, I promise!) We get on the bus, find a seat, and journey to where we are going. Each person on the bus may not know it, but they have a different function on the bus. The driver is responsible for safely driving the bus to its destination, the passengers on the bus are responsible to follow the rules set out by the bus driver – and to get on the correct bus to get to the destination, and others who are not on the bus may set the destination. All of the individuals involved have to work together to have a pleasant and successful bus ride.
You are the Driver
Where the bus is going is controlled by the bus driver. The bus driver may have been told where to drive the bus by someone else, but the bus driver is in charge. When you set up an estate plan, you are the bus driver. You control where you are going, how long it will take to get there, and what route to take. Just like driving a bus, where you are in control, you are in control of your own estate plan. You decide what happens to your assets, who will be in charge of distributing those assets, and what route to take.
If You are the Driver, Why an Attorney?
Of course, if you were driving a bus, you would consult with a map, or use a GPS, to know where you were going, unless you had all of the roads memorized. Using an estate planning attorney is like consulting a map or a using a GPS. The estate planning attorney can help you know what to expect and what possibilities are available to you. On a bus drive, you can choose to use the freeway, side streets, or a combination. Similarly, when setting up an estate plan, you can use a will, trust, beneficiary’s deed, beneficiary designation, or a combination of all these tools. An estate planning attorney can help you determine the best route and guide you on how to get there. An estate planning attorney can also let you know the advantages and disadvantages of using certain tools in estate planning.
However, you are still in charge. You can determine the route to take and what tools to use in estate planning. You are the bus driver.
What About the Passengers?
Who are all the other people on the bus, then? Why are they there, and what role to they play? The answer is that in this analogy, the people on the bus are your family members. Your estate plan is yours to decide, and you have the final say, but you want your family members to be on board. You want your family members to know what you are doing, and you want to get their input. So, your family members are on board, but are not in control.
Just like everyone on the bus wants to get to the same destination, but the driver controls how to get there, family members get involved in an estate plan should have the same end goal in mind. Often this means that the individual setting up the estate plan will need to consider the wants and desires of family members, but it is not always possible to include what everyone wants.
Imagine the chaos on a bus if every passenger thought that they should get a turn at the wheel, or thought that they had the right to simply go to the front and wrestle control of the bus away from the driver. A lot of crashing and wrecked busses would be the result. When family members attempt to hijack an estate plan, or think they are in control of someone else’s estate plan, similar chaos occurs.
Avoid a Crash – Before it Happens
There may not be wreckage of a bus strewn along the road, with twisted metal and plastic all around, but family relationships can be strained or destroyed, and feelings certainly can get hurt. The horror stories of probate after someone dies often result because too many people tried to get in on setting up the estate plan the way they wanted, and not everyone was happy, or at least OK, with what was created and put in place.
Just like a school bus driver would put an end to a fight by pulling the bus over and stopping fighting, someone who creates an estate plan can stop a fight by putting in place a well thought out plan that thoughtfully includes the kids input, but does cater to all of the kids demands. Kids get input, but not the final say…as it should be.
The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round
Once an estate plan is set up, the pieces are in motion for a smooth transition of assets. Just like a bus that is properly equipped and going in the right direction, an estate plan will roll on and reach its destination without the need for strong intervention. The wheels on the bus will go round and round, as the estate plan will be implemented just as you want.