Property or People?

The first client I ever met with as a licensed attorney forever changed the way I thought about estate planning.

The young lady had walked into my office with bowed head, shuffling feet, and closed lip. I thought she seemed a bit morose for one who was simply organizing her estate. I had purposely chosen not to practice in areas of law that were full of drama—criminal, bankruptcy, torts, family law, and others. What, in the name of estate planning, could possibly have caused this young lady such an apparent burden?

“My brother just jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge,” she finally eked out. “He committed suicide . . .”

Needless to say, nothing in law school prepared me for that. In short order, I experienced a monumental paradigm change about the real meaning of estate planning.

Her brother, an artist and musician, died with few valuables; but he did leave behind his creative works. These meant the world to her, and while she professed needing “help to administer his estate,” it was clear that what she really wanted was a way to express love for him—in this case, through the care she took in preserving his few assets.

Gratefully, I never again met with a client who shocked me quite like she did. And fortunately, few of us will experience such an intense crisis. Still, all of us will experience some personal or family difficulty—a struggling child, a declining parent, a difficult divorce, or a special-needs loved one.

Estate planning is a way of investing in the people we love. It is not simply an opportunity—it is a responsibility. While safeguarding assets from loss is certainly important, planning for the ones we love is crucial.

Don’t wait for some unexpected tragedy to begin arranging your affairs!

I learned that day that estate planning is less about the things we own and more about the ones we love. It is about relationships more than riches, people more than property.