"Wow, I didn't know how involved this was going to be! I didn't realize how many things you had me think about...some things I had never considered!"
That's something I often hear after the first consultation at my office. For some reason, some folks think estate planning is something that will only take about 5 -10 minutes - like they're going to a drive thru at McDonalds. I think that's because the media and the internet (self-help legal websites, for example) have commoditized the estate plan, making it seem like you're buying a television set. When clients realize how much more there is to putting together a decent estate plan, they walk out of that first meeting much wiser. Better yet, they understand what the documents are all about, how to use them, and best of all, the documents will reflect their true wishes. They feel empowered.
During the first meeting, I spend about 1 and 1/2 hours to 2 hours with the clients, explaining the fundamentals of estate planning, the essential tools we'll be using, and teaching them the terminology required to fully understand what they are doing. We review several different options and determine what's most suitable for their needs and priorities. What good is an estate plan if you don't understand what your options are, what your documents mean, or how to use them?
If you're looking for a "drive-thru" experience like a fast food chain, my office is probably not the best choice. If you actually want to sit down with an attorney and really understand what you are doing, why you are doing it, and how to do it, then my office might be a good fit.
One of the biggest reasons estate plans fail is because clients have a false sense of security because they simply "checked off" estate planning from their to-do list. Having a binder full of documents doesn't do you any good if you don't understand the contents of the binder. Sure, you have a toolbox full of legal "tools," but you don't know how to use them. That's why I think it's important to spend plenty of time explaining matters to my clients, first from a "macro" perspective and then from a "micro" perspective.
My job as an attorney is to explain things to my clients in a manner that helps them understand what we are doing and why we are doing it. During the process, I often ask questions of things they may have never considered. We discuss solutions and the importance of crafting an estate plan that addresses their biggest concerns. After all, what's the point of going to a lawyer if they don't do those things? When I go to a doctor, I want to choose a doctor who will help me understand what's going on, what my options are, and why one approach might be better than another. A lawyer does the same things, but in the legal world.
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