'Tis the Season to Be "Planning"

Over the last several weeks I have written articles concerning various topics of cottage law – succession planning, charitable giving, tax planning and the effect of the new federal estate and gift tax law. As we approach the end of the year I will focus my thoughts and articles on estate planning and related topics that you may find helpful as you reflect on this past year and look forward to the future.

I tell my clients that planning “in time” is not necessarily planning “on time.” This rule applies to not only estate planning, but the cottage plans and business succession plans that I am involved in for families as well. I’d like to share a brief story that underscores this point.

A client of mine, who we’ll call “Ralph,” owned a large contracting business with several employees whose livelihoods depended on Ralph and his business. In addition, Ralph was recently divorced and has adult children, all of whom had complicated financial and legal issues affecting their lives. Based on the fact that Ralph and I lived in close proximity to each other, I would run into him on a regular basis at the grocery store, gas station, etc., and constantly reminded him that, due to his divorce, there were many unresolved family estate planning issues that needed to be dealt with, such as: Who should be appointed to make decisions on his behalf in the event of his illness? and Who would be in charge of his estate (and asset distribution) in the event of his death?

One morning my worst fears for Ralph came true when I received a call from his daughter informing me that he had been taken to a local hospital. She urged me to come immediately as Ralph was requesting to see me. I went to the hospital to discuss various issues with Ralph which, under normal circumstances, would have taken several hours, but that morning we covered the “high points” in several minutes. I then contacted my office and literally dictated an estate plan over the phone to my assistant who, within two hours, appeared at the hospital with documents for Ralph to sign. In the meantime, Ralph’s tests indicated he had a significant heart problem that required immediate surgery.

Ralph executed several complex estate planning documents that we produced while he was literally lying on a stretcher, in an elevator, surrounded by nurses and doctors quickly escorting him into the operating room. Ralph placed his signature on the documents by simply scribbling his initials where I showed him to sign.

We executed the necessary documents that morning and created an adequate plan that addressed most of Ralph’s estate planning and related issues.

Fortunately, Ralph recovered from his emergency heart surgery and has since met with me on several occasions to modify and, in some instances, totally restate provisions of the estate planning documents that I had drafted for him the morning of his surgery.

I suppose in looking at this story that many people would say that what we were able to do for Ralph that morning resulted in Ralph planning “in time,” but I doubt any of you would characterize Ralph’s planning as being “on time.”

Most of us have great intentions with respect to planning for our estates or other important events in our lives. However, the hustle and bustle of our day-to-day activities get in the way of our best intentions.

I encourage you to take a few minutes and consider the planning you have done – specifically, if that planning reflects all of your desires concerning the appointment of individuals to act on your behalf and the management and disposition of your assets to your family members. Chances are circumstances may have changed in your life since you completed your last estate plan and related documents.

Please contact us if you would like to initiate a new plan or revisit and review and old one.

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