Lawyers are no different from other groups when it comes to disagreeing with each other and, in fact, are probably worse. So while attending a recent seminar on trusts and estate planning, I was pleasantly surprised when my colleagues and I all agreed on one thing: People don’t like having the conversations needed for drafting adequate trusts and planning for the future, especially Baby Boomers and young couples. For example, a friend once told me that he and his wife hadn’t revisited the issue of guardianship for 13 years because it created such a stir the first time. Understandable. What man wants to tell his wife that instead of his mother-in-law, he’d rather have the kids raised by Darth Vader? Disclaimer: My friend did not say that about his wife’s mother.
Baby Boomers don’t like talking about this issue because we cannot fathom that the world will continue to exist without us. Similarly, young couples, especially young parents, tend to believe that they are the world. Why not? Still, conversations about retirement and the Golden Years are essential and should be had a lot sooner than the appearance of the first strand of grey.
How can we lawyers help if the conversations are sidestepped? Well, we try to provide compelling reasons for having these important chats, such as the following:
- If you’re a couple in your 20s or 30s the world is at your feet and you should do what you can to protect your world. Have you thought about your values and who in your families, outside of your partner, most accurately reflects those values? When you take vacations without the children and/or pets are you comfortable that your values are supported or do the children need reeling back in when returning from 3 weeks with Grandma? Perhaps you should gently suggest that Uncle Bob or Aunt Carol help Grandma out a few evenings. However, if Grandma rebukes the suggestion by playing the “grandparent trump card”: “I’m a grandparent and can do what I want for my grandchildren,” tell Uncle Bob or somebody to be at Grandma’s a few times a week. When Grandma huffs, blame it on a lawyer.
- Leaving the healthcare debate for another time, if you’re a Baby Boomer, you probably know that medical wonders abound to provide you or your parents with the physiological retirement deserved. Have you found a way to ensure that when their knees need replacing, Mom or Dad will be able to recuperate in the manner to which they’ve become accustomed without sacrificing your lifestyle or their independence? If, when approaching the subject, they start moaning about you deserting them and them living out their final moments with cold mashed potatoes and a checkerboard, suggest interviewing in-home, part-time caregivers and a cruise that gives AARP members discounts. If that doesn’t work, blame the cold potatoes on a lawyer.
- If you are a small business owner, your business may be your most valuable asset. When you are ready to release the reigns, at least a little bit, are you and your family comfortable with your individual successor or the successor management? Maybe one family member knows the business inside out and the other family member has no clue but 2 people are needed to run it. Update your business plan and bring the other family member in on management selection of neutral parties. If he or she doesn’t want to be involved from that perspective, blame the million-dollar IPO that the family member got locked out of on an accountant.