As times have changed, so has the field of estate planning. When I started out in the field in 1995, people and their lives seemed to be less complicated. Back then estate planning for the average client consisted of the basics - a simple Revocable Living Trust, Pour Over Will, Durable Power of Attorney, and health care documents. If the clients were married, then their Revocable Living Trusts contained AB Trusts to minimize the impact of estate taxes since at the time the federal estate tax exemption was only $600,000.
Planning for the Modern Family
Today, the typical clients who have been married for 40+ years and have two well-adjusted children and four well-adjusted grandchildren are in the minority. Instead, estate planners are faced with planning for informed and sophisticated clients who come with "baggage" - singles (either by choice or through divorce), same sex couples, unwed couples, blended families, and dysfunctional families.
This significant change in family dynamics has led to a significant shift in how estate planners help their clients plan for incapacity and death. Today we have to listen and counsel more and offer insight and guidance on a case by case basis instead of just providing basic information and a generic solution. We are true collaborators with our clients instead of sellers of estate plans.
Your Estate Planning Attorney Should Be Your Trusted Advisor
This is why it's so important for you to find an estate planning attorney who you feel comfortable enough with to tell everything - about your son who is addicted to drugs; your brother whom you haven't seen in 20 years; your daughter-in-law who has turned your son and other children against you; your daughter and only child who has turned her back on you.
Without being told all of the "sensitive" information, your estate planning attorney won't be able to work with you to develop an estate plan that will really work for you and your family. Your estate planning attorney really needs to hear it all - the good, bad, and ugly - so that he or she can help you put together an estate plan especially tailored to your current family and financial situations. And as time goes by and your life changes, you'll need to go back to your trusted estate planning attorney again and perhaps again and again to tweak, fine tune, and revise your estate plan.
As Your Life Changes, Your Estate Plan Needs to Change
If you view your estate plan as a static set of documents, then you've been greatly misled by an estate planning attorney who still follows the traditional approach to estate planning. Instead, invest in a long term relationship with a trusted advisor, someone who takes the time to understand you and your family dynamics now and also understands that those dynamics can and will continue to change.