My oldest daughter is currently enrolled in an AP United States history class. She took an AP World history class and enjoyed it quite a lot. This year, her AP United States history class has been a little more difficult for her. She has struggled with reading the textbook and taking notes, which seemed to be one of her favorite parts about her class last year. My wife and I asked her what the difference was, and she talked about how the textbook this year included so many things that it was hard to determine what was important to take away from the reading. I asked to take a look at the textbook, and she handed it to me. I opened to a page she was supposed to read that week, and took about 3 seconds to understand what she meant. The textbook was written in small font, with tiny spacing between the lines, and no visual cues as to what might be important – not even indentations on paragraphs. As I started to read some of the paragraphs, I could also tell how the detail included in each paragraph did not lend itself to easily understanding what the textbook was trying to say.
Now, I am quite familiar with dense texts and dense writing. I have spent years in law school reading statutes passed by the Colorado State Legislature, or cases from the various courts, both state and federal. As I have been practicing law, I have also delved into the Code of Federal Regulations, Internal Revenue Service Tax Code and Tax Regulations, and other densely worded laws that do not make for exciting reading! My daughter’s textbook rivaled all of these publications for density and non-readability. I did not blame her for not liking the textbook, and not liking the reading, but we discussed how she might be able to plow through the textbook and still succeed in her class.
In my estate planning practice, I sometimes feel like the documents I write are more dense and less readable than I might like. Unfortunately, that is a reality of writing in legal language – legal language can be confusing and dense, by its very nature.
However, just because I write the documents in legal words and language does not mean that I need to be dense and boring when I meet with clients. Instead, I try to keep my meetings more connected to you and what you need. I don’t want to be the boring attorney who just reads back statutes to you, and I don’t really want to get into an abstract conversation about what a statute means without any sort of context or application to you and your situation.
I want to hear about you and your life situation. What does your family look like? What assets do you have, and where are they held? What are you trying to do with the assets after you pass on – give them to your children, or if you don’t have any children, or don’t want to give your children your assets, where do you want them to go? By discussing these types of questions, I can explain what the law allows to you, and how it applies to you, without having a boring and dry discussion about the law and what it may mean. I am not a law professor, and you are not a law student, so we don’t really want to have a discussion about the law that is not connected to you or does not help you get what you want and need.
Why Don’t You Want to Talk In General Terms or Generally About the Law?
I have many people who call me and want to ask general questions about the law regarding estate planning. Some people are generally curious, others want me to explain the law so that they can get free legal advice, and others simply are trying to figure out what they need to do and may not quite know how to ask about the law. No matter what the case is motivating people to ask general questions, having a generalized conversation usually does not help any of these people. I have found that explaining things in general terms usually prompts the next question, most often like this: “What is an example?” or “Can you give me an example of how that works?”
I much prefer to have your situation be the example I use to explain the law and how it might apply to you, as that is a much more productive discussion than one that is general in nature, followed by me giving an example, and then getting down to what your situation is. By learning more about your situation when we meet, I can explain the law using your situation as an example and how the law can benefit you. You are the example, and your situation allows for an explanation of how the law works. By using your situation and your needs as an example, the law is much more connected to you and much more understandable for you.
Using Your Situation as the Example to Explain the Law Helps You Understand the Law and the Estate Planning Process
When we use your life situation as an example to explain the law, you are better able to understand the law and how it applies to you. Instead of having an ethereal, hypothetical, esoteric discussion about the difference between a will and a trust, we can talk about why a will or a trust might apply to your situation. If a trust would be useful or helpful to you, we can discuss why that is the case in terms of what a trust provides to you, and the laws surrounding a trust, instead of trying to talk through everything with no context. The same is true of a will. If you just need a will, and a trust would not really give you a benefit beyond what a will would do, then you don’t need to pay for the additional work and cost of a trust. By using you and your situation as an example of why a will or trust would be the correct option for you, the law becomes more understandable and personal to you.
You can also see how the estate planning process will be useful and helpful to you. You can see the benefits to you of setting up a will or trust, and also see the drawbacks to each approach. Our meetings and discussions will help you understand the law, and applying the law to your situation aids in that understanding. The estate planning process itself helps you understand what it is you want to do, how what you want can be done in the law, and let’s you see how you benefit from the process and the estate planning documents you have at the end of the process.
Using Your Situation as the Example Also Helps You Understand Why We Meet
I have many people who seem to think we can just do estate planning via email or strictly over the phone. I really am not a fan of that approach, as email provides a relatively poor format for me to explain the law and estate planning concepts to you in a manner that I can see if you understand my explanation. I have had email exchanges that go on for several messages over the course of many days or even weeks, where a five or ten minute phone call resolves the question or misunderstanding quite easily. When we meet, I can get a sense of whether my explanations of the law are getting through, or if I need to explain things in a different way. Applying the law to your situation helps the law make sense to you, and gives us a common ground for explanations…your life situation. I find that everyone seems to understand their life the best, so I can use your life situation to help you understand the law and what we are trying to do.
Phone conversations are great to have, but I also feel like in person meetings lend themselves to better understanding. When I meet with clients in person, we can get a sense of how each of us approaches things, and I also can see when I start losing someone in an explanation. If I sense a misunderstanding, I can stop and resolve a lingering question or concern before we move on. Sometimes I use legal jargon that is confusing, or sometimes I have moved on from an explanation that was not fully understood. In either case, it is good that I can see your reactions and respond to what you need. I cannot see that over the phone, and I have also found that many times my clients think of questions just a few minutes after we hang up the phone from a meeting. If you try to call me back, I may have moved on to another meeting or project, so our communication is not as good as we would have liked. Still, when we talk on the phone, using your situation as the example to explain the law helps prevent too many misunderstandings.
Let’s Meet Together and See How We Can Make the Law Work for You
I promise I will try to not be boring and dense when we meet, like my daughters AP United States history textbook. I want to listen to your situation and hear what you want to do. I may ask questions that address the information I need from you, but I promise to listen to your answers, so that we can find the solution that works for you. We don’t need to be boring and dull, but we want to together discover how the law can work for you to accomplish what you want, and need, to have happen in your estate plan.