There is an Irish proverb “where the tongue slips, it speaks the truth”. All too often, people speak in a way that is different than the estate plan that they leave. Prospective Clients often contact me to ask why the estate plan does not reflect the statements made by their loved one in life. All too often, there are two very different reasons for this situation.
The first reason is the painful obvious one to me. Your loved one did not tell you the truth in their lifetime. Oftentimes, attorneys hear in the planning process something along the lines of “I know I told Sarah I was giving her my diamond earrings, but I just don’t like her and I want you to put in my will that they go to Emily.” These types of tongue slips are often the most painful for the living beneficiaries to hear. Having spent a lifetime assuming a treasured heirloom will be theirs, it instead goes to someone else. The amount of pain and hurt in these instances is large. I counsel my clients to speak in their lifetime to those whom they are passing items. If something was promised to someone, and you change your mind, you are doing a great service to your memory to clear up the confusion in your lifetime. I also encourage clients to make sure the entire family understands the estate plan and how it works. It is so much easier to work out issues during a client’s lifetime, than after death.
The other reason an estate plan doesn’t reflect the statements made during life, is the terrible situation of bad lawyering. Many lawyers draft plans without listening to their clients, or use stock documents, that don’t really reflect a client’s wishes. Many lawyers don’t take the time to explain the plan—which can often lead to unexpected distributions. I understand that many clients want a “cheap” or inexpensive plan, but when it doesn’t work to the end that it should, have you done yourself any favors?
Make sure that your estate plan doesn’t slip, but instead speaks your truth.