Estate Planning -- A Transaction or a Relationship?
Many attorneys and clients treat estate planning as a transaction rather than a relationship. You go through the process and emerge with an executed will or trust, power of attorney, health care proxy/living will and you’re done. Thank you very much, goodbye. In the majority of cases you never hear from the lawyer or law firm ever again. However, to ensure that the preparing lawyer will have the inside track on probating the will, the original, or “ribbon copy” (from the old days when a red ribbon was put through the pages to prevent tampering) is often kept in the law firm’s safe. Only one original of a will may be prepared and it is the only one acceptable to the court.
One of the problems with this approach is that it places the onus on the client to keep their documents up to date. In our experience, many clients fail in the regard resulting in plans that either don’t work or do more harm than good in the end. For example, either the wrong person may be in charge or the distribution is based on an outdated reality.
Over three decades ago, we determined there was a better way to plan -- based on establishing a relationship with our clients. Instead of keeping the original will or trust, we would give the original to the client and then work hard to make them want to come and see us at the end of the day, instead of having to come and see us. To this effect, we provide a free review of the client’s plan every three years effected by sending the client a note reminding them to come in. We do not charge for emails or phone calls with questions (within reason!) for the lifetime of the client. Of course, if and when legal work is required we charge a reasonable fee.
This way, when something unfortunate happens to one of our clients, we know who they are, having seen them within the last three years. Moreover, an Ettinger Plan is designed to work when you need it, hopefully many decades later.