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CORRALLING THE SOFT ISSUES

Reprinted from the Journal of Practical Estate Planning, April - May 2001

Our Professional Corrals


Each of us has practice boundaries beyond which we do not venture.

These are the professional "corrals" in which we work. Outside is "free range." Our corrals are circumscribed by state licenses and malpractice exposure, modified by the needs of our firms and our clients, and shaped by what interests us and fortifies our sense of professional competence. Over a professional lifetime, one's corral will change and reshape.

For most estate and business planners, the "hard" issues define our practice boundaries, with tax avoidance at the top of the list. The so-called "soft" issues, whatever they may be, lie outside our corrals—in free range. Our conventional wisdom is that soft issues have something to do with "emotions", can make our clients difficult, even crazy, and can get us into all kinds of trouble if we venture too near.

Borrowing from Robert Frost, I ask you to take a fresh look at which soft issues you are "corralling in" and which soft issues you are "corralling out." You may decide to reshape your corral.

Era Warp


Our "hard" side world is a creature of the Enlightenment that began in the 17th Century and ended after WWII. Scientific advances, particularly in mathematics and physics, characterized the Enlightenment giving rise to discoveries and inventions that created the Industrial Revolution and led to our current technological revolution.

This hard side world was a clock. Successful enterprises were machines, conceived by engineers and monitored by accountants, for the ends of maximum industrial productivity at minimum cost. Individual workers were a collection of individuals, parts of the machine, fungible and interchangeable.

The hallmark of the hard side is quantification and metrics. As war came to be measured in "body counts", so also success in law or accounting in time sheets. Much of the law as we know it developed in the Enlightenment, incorporating hard side assumptions, protecting hard side interests.

"Soft side" thinking is largely post-WWII. The soft side world is not mechanical, but organic. Biology has eclipsed mathematics and physics. The soft side world is not a clock, but a rain forest. Enterprises are no longer machines, but ecosystems whose fitness to survive is determined by their relationships to other organizational ecosystems in the rain forest world. Enterprises are no longer collections of individuals, but systems.

While retaining the benefits of the hard side, the soft side enterprise is no longer industrial; it is knowledge-based. The most valuable corporate assets are no longer capital assets, inventory, work in progress and finished goods, but intellectual capital—knowledge carefully collected from and then redistributed among employees, who themselves have become the company's most valuable assets.

Systems thinking abounds. Soft side emphasis is not so much on individual achievement, but one's contribution to the system, and one's role in the creation and utilization of valuable shared knowledge. Individualism has given way to important relationships; independence to interdependence; self-absorption and self-reliance to networking and connectedness. Ironically, that supreme quantifier—the computer—is making its supreme impact as biology eclipses mathematics. Indeed, the computer's ultimate contribution may not be quantification but connectedness and communication offered through the Internet.

The jerky transition from a clock world to a rain forest world is far from complete and far from seamless. Those of us who grew to intellectual maturity in the clock world are nostalgic for it. We miss its certainty, its order, its predictability, its familiarity. By comparison, the rain forest world, with its unfamiliar array of soft issues, seems capricious, messy, and chaotic at times. Yet I predict that this tectonic shift from clock to rain forest will induce many of us to reshape our professional corrals to include some selected soft issues that we once considered free range.

In an increasingly soft side world, the future of estate and business planning will belong to those of us whose clients understand how their planner's work will play out in their lives and in the lives of their beneficiaries.

Relationships


Over the past fifteen years I have spent days and weeks watching therapists work—collaborating with them and picking their brains. I still can't do what they do. I don't have the training, experience, temperament or emotional antennae. To really understand the soft issues, you must learn from a therapist. To unscrew tough soft issues in a highly conflicted family you must be a therapist. At most I have become, as one therapist describes me with faint praise, "a psychologically sensitive lawyer."

Somehow I acquired the old-fashioned hard side focus on individuals. Relationships were peripheral. My eye was on the hole instead of the donut. Twenty-five years of the law's rugged individualism encouraged this. The law assumes that all human relationships will ultimately fail, whereupon every individual will need a lawyer to protect him or her from every other individual, even from family. The past fifteen years has provided me a graphic refresher course on the terrible destructive power of family wealth litigation.

I am a trust and estates lawyer on a fifteen-year sabbatical exploring the soft issues involved in the transfer of family wealth. It began this way. In 1986 an important law client asked me to settle a dispute that was boiling over in his family—conflict about the role of the younger generation in the future of the family business. The law had not prepared me to help that family. Indeed, legal ethics warned me not to try. Legal ethics make it difficult to represent contentious families. A lawyer who attempts to make peace could impair one family member's eventual claim against others in the clan. If so, peacemaking efforts can be both ethically reprehensible and expose the lawyer to claims of malpractice.

For a while, it seemed as though everything I tried with that family went wrong. The harder I pushed the hard issues, the more embroiled they became in the soft ones. The more rational I was, the more irrational they were. The more analytical I was, the more emotional they became. The more I appealed to data, and logic, and numbers, the more they wandered off into past wrongs and placing blame. At the end of my rope, and the family at the end of theirs, I called in a gifted psychologist who introduced me to the "soft side" of business families.

Psychology teaches the soft side view that the most important parts of our lives are lived not as individuals, but in relationships. It is good relationships that call us to greatness. Good relationships are win-win; everyone gains. In good relationships—personal or professional, intimate or organizational, family or business—one plus one becomes greater than two. It's not surprising, then, that for most business families, their relationships are far more important than their rights! It is not their individuality but their connectedness that matters most!

In a variety of ways, clients say to us: "these are my assets; this is my family, what makes sense?" They don't separate their hard side from their soft side, their rights from their relationships, and their individuality from their connectedness. They want a package that makes good sense out of assets and family. The relationships in our client business families may be largely adhesive or at least manageably abrasive, simmering more or less amicably for years until circumstances stir the fire. Soft issues may bubble to the top. A family once adhesive or manageably abrasive becomes explosive. An example.

A Parable


At the 2000 Annual Meeting of ACTEC, a very clever and humorous "Parable" was presented by ACTEC fellows. The central characters were a clumsy, harried and rather unsophisticated senior lawyer, his inexperienced young associate fresh from the ethics portion of the bar exam, a wealthy widowed 30-year client of the firm, the client's three adult daughters, and one sorry son-in-law.

The eldest daughter ("Eldest) was a financial analyst who managed her father's portfolio. The middle daughter ("Middle") had first worked with her father in a manufacturing business he had since sold. He failed to tell Middle of the sale (which she opposed) until shortly before the closing. Thereafter, Middle helped him invest the sales proceeds in real estate that she managed day-to-day.

The youngest daughter ("Youngest") had little interest or knowledge about the family business. She was preoccupied with her shaky marriage to a grasping oaf licensed, but not very successful, in one the professions represented here. For years the couple had lived beyond their means, bailed out by Father, often by unreported taxable gifts.

Father had done little estate planning other than annual exclusion gifts of real estate units to a revocable trust for his daughters as equal beneficiaries. He and a Bank were co-trustees of that revocable trust and also co-trustees of a testamentary Q-Tip trust created by his late wife, the daughters' mother ("Mother"). The lawyers had done personal estate planning for each of the daughters, and years ago had prepared a prenuptial agreement that the son-in-law refused to sign.

The Parable began with a telephone call from Eldest to the senior lawyer, insisting that a family limited partnership (FLP) be formed to save Father eventual estate taxes. Eldest wanted to succeed her father as managing general partner of the FLP, whereupon she would be in a position to send lots of new legal business to the law firm.

Alert to potential ethics issues, the young lawyer copied a form family engagement agreement she found on the ACTEC website. The senior partner signed it without reading. In the engagement, each family member waived the firm's duty of confidentiality, and waived potential claims of conflicts of interest against the firm. The document suggested that each party contact another lawyer to review the agreement on his or her behalf. Father went ballistic at the suggestion he pay another lawyer to review it. The senior partner went ballistic when he learned the engagement had been mailed not only to Bank but also to the youngest daughter. Bank was a major client of their law firm.

Confused, Youngest inquired who would be looking out for her. Eldest assured Youngest that she "would be taken care of" and that the purpose of the family limited partnership was to protect Youngest "temporarily" from her husband's faulty business judgment. Eventually, and with considerable misgivings, all signed the engagement.

The Family Meeting


In due course, the lawyers met with the family, except for Youngest who was not invited for fear she would bring her husband. Father demanded a "simple will" and was stunned by the prospect of $5M anticipated estate taxes. Repeatedly, he insisted that his daughters be "treated equally." Eldest and Middle had a nasty argument about securities vs. real estate as the appropriate investment vehicle for Father's wealth. The three family members instructed their lawyers to tell the youngest sister as little as possible about the estate plan and the FLP. Youngest was to have no control over her inheritance so long as she remained married to "him."

Bank expressed misgivings about the revocable trust becoming a partner of the FLP. Bank would lose control of trust assets but retain fiduciary liability, make an imprudent investment, and face a lack of liquidity to pay estate taxes. Bank insisted on complete disclosure of the FLP, consent of all trust beneficiaries, and a hold harmless from each, together with independent legal representation at no cost.

Nevertheless, the FLP was formed with Father as general partner, Eldest as his successor, and the three daughters as limited partners. Into the partnership went his securities and remaining real estate. Middle daughter was named executor of her father's estate, as sole successor trustee of Youngest's trust, and as "advisor" to the FLP.

The Second Family Meeting


Following Father's death, the family met again with their lawyers. This time Youngest and her husband were present. Middle fretted because she had no real authority as executor, co-trustee or "advisor" because all the assets were in the FLP managed by Eldest. Bank threatened to resign as trustee unless named general partner of the FLP or as trustee of the shares of its corporate general partner. Youngest wanted to break the trust and the FLP so her husband can manage her property. Husband threatened to sue the law firm because neither he nor his wife was included in the original estate planning.

Replay


The Parable was designed to surface knotty legal ethics issues, and I don't propose to unscrew them. Very good lawyers are doing that. The Parable also surfaces some classic soft issues. Suppose the lawyers could erase this unfortunate experience and begin again. Assume further that the lawyers ask me for some soft side observations.

Begin with Father


"Treat my daughters equally" may mean no more than their father loves each one individually. He may not want to acknowledge their differences in competence or circumstances. Or perhaps he doesn't know what to do about the Eldest's predatory nature, or Youngest's vulnerability, or her hominid husband, or his own regrets about taking Middle for granted. "Treat my daughters equally" could signal all of the above.

A successful and demanding parent aggravates sibling rivalries that seldom disappear in adulthood, and may intensify around family stresses. Securities vs. real estate may not be the real issue between Eldest and Middle.

As far as we know, the family has been spared seriously traumatizing stresses such as divorce, blended families, addictions to alcohol, drugs, or gambling, or mental illnesses, physical abuse, emotional or sexual abuse, financial disasters, tragic injuries, or untimely death. But their soft issues are nevertheless sufficiently intense to threaten Father's estate planning.

Acknowledge Father as leader of the family. Reaffirm that he is free to do whatever he wants with his estate. Because of his strong influence, and their respect for him, each daughter is likely to mumble her assent to any estate plan, like it or not. But if each daughter is invited to speak her mind before the plan is put in place, she is much more likely to buy in to it, even if she doesn't get exactly what she wants. The estate plan becomes hers, or more importantly, theirs. "We support that which we help create." The work product of such Family Due Diligence is much less likely to be attacked. Father will know best after he listens.

The genius of parenting is to understand and respond appropriately to the individual differences in our children. It's impossible to treat them exactly equally. Her perception of fair treatment may be more important to a daughter than mathematical equality. Fair treatment is personal, connected, and affection-based. It's not what father considers fair; it's what each daughter perceives as fair. And if she gets a fair hearing in his estate planning process, the more likely she is to perceive the ultimate plan as fair. This process of Family Due Diligence offers Father a sublime opportunity for family statesmanship. His daughters will remember, and perhaps emulate his example.

Review the terms of engagement with Father. Be up front about the ethical tightrope you're willing to walk for an old and valued client.

Tell Father how you plan to handle confidential communications. Like you, we never disclose confidences without permission. But we sometimes withhold non-confidential disclosures as a matter of judgment. Some just don't need to be told—or at least it's not our time or place to tell them. Others are disclosed more appropriately in family interactions. Some "secrets" are already general knowledge in the family. Handling individual disclosures is the delicate art of facilitating Family Due Diligence. As a matter of legal ethics, some lawyers feel compelled to disclose everything to each multiple client they represent. "I'm going to tell everyone everything you tell me," severely limits these important individual conversations. Father will understand that you may not choose to tell him everything. Under the ACTEC engagement, the lawyers need not disclose everything to everyone.

Apologize, if you must, for the profession's insensitivity to families and the engagement's complexity.

Consider not sending a bill for this meeting with Father.

A "walk through" of the proposed estate plan with the daughters may test the lawyers' valued professional relationship with father. So be it. It takes professional courage to put the client's welfare ahead of your own.

Some Common Soft Issues in Estate Planning


A family is a system of very intense, complex and fragile relationships, some known, some ambiguous, some never known. Family relationships changed markedly when Mother died, and will change again when Father passes on. Like the human body, a family system has a marvelous facility for balance and self-healing. Family Due Diligence, undertaken while everyone is alive, healthy, informed, and influential, gives family members the opportunity to re-balance, to anticipate, and even plan their eventual healing.

There's no consensus about the effect of birth order on our conduct in the world outside our family of origin. But inside families, birth order is very significant. Eldest daughter sounds typical: take charge, be responsible, tell the others what to do, make lists, have migraines. Middle daughter, the loyal pleaser and peacemaker, fits the model of a middle child. Youngest echoes an oft heard youngest child's plea: "Who's going to take care of me?"

The daughters' relationships with each other stir the fire. Oldest takes charge and her sisters resent it. She can be manipulative and sneaky—witness her unctuous promises of future law business. Sisters may strongly oppose Eldest's campaign to succeed Father as managing general partner of the FLP. I doubt the loyal Middle would tolerate the same thoughtless treatment from Eldest that she endured from Father. Middle won't be satisfied with sinecures—as an executor without real powers or as mere "advisor" to the FLP. Youngest is both ashamed and painfully loyal to her sorry husband. Living with him may be awful but living alone may seem worse. Youngest may be highly envious of her sisters' successes, their successful marriages in particular. Leaving her powerless and uninformed just rubs it in. Count on sorry husband to stir her fires.

Though Mother is dead, her relationships with each family survivor live on. She will be a silent participant in Father's estate planning. Invoking Mother's memory during the estate planning process can be powerful—and delicate. Not to mention Mother appropriately might seem disrespectful.

The objective of Family Due Diligence is to allow the family system to adjust and accommodate prospectively to Father's estate plan. A family simply can't delegate this family process to the lawyers, yet in the fumbling first round this is what the senior partner undertook with his bumbling shuttle diplomacy.

Though there is a certain safety in superficiality, it's unwise to assume in advance that all your clients are "normal" and just as unwise to assume that all are "dysfunctional"—that all family relationships have serrated edges. It's risky to rely on one family member's characterization of family relationships. You may get blindsided. Families are as different from each other as every human being is different from every other human being.

Our experience is that four out of five clients can handle Family Due Diligence well enough. One of five may be seriously disrupted—"dysfunctional" as you might say. These families can ambush, bushwhack, blind side you. You could do harm in a hurry. To identify these families in advance, we do some spadework.

We distribute a pre-meeting questionnaire to each family member to help identify sensitive relationship issues. Their responses tell us what's "hot" and likely to provoke controversy. If there is high expectation of controversy, consider a soft side facilitator for the first family meeting.

Shuttle diplomacy between individual family members is less efficient than Family Due Diligence and creates greater risk. It's tempting to tell family members—one-to-one—what each wants to hear. Tell each the very same thing privately, and they still hear it differently. Writing it down is no guarantee that each will get the same message.

Armed with responses to pre-meeting questionnaires, I routinely conduct confidential interviews with each family member before the first meeting. These reduce my blunder potential. I get phone calls from family members in between. Per the ACTEC form engagement, the lawyers need not disclose these individual confidences.

Family Meetings


I would plan three family meetings about ten days apart if all live close by: one for orientation, one for discussion after marinating, and a third, if needed, as a wrap-up. Ninety minutes for each meeting should be enough. If they must travel, schedule half-day meetings on two successive days. A night in between allowing for pillow talk and sleep can be quite helpful. If serious hostilities break out at any stage, be prepared to adjourn and suggest a facilitator.

Get them all in the same room. Talking and listening together imposes a unique group discipline. Invite each daughter to each meeting. Unexplained exclusion always suggests a conspiracy against the uninvited. Each daughter decides whether to bring her husband. Prepare Father for sorry son-in-law's contributions. It won't be the first time Father's statesmanship has been tested.

Carefully walk the gathered family through the proposed FLP. Explain Eldest's broad powers as successor general partner and how Eldest and Middle will be compensated for their services. Point out that Youngest won't have a management role in the FLP but she will share as equal partner in value and income. Her husband may object loudly. Youngest may remain silent, her silence expressing deep frustration about her lack of stroke.

Surface any serious concerns during the planning process. Let the family discuss alternatives. Perhaps the family can't live with a FLP. So forget it. Suggest something else. Perhaps one FLP for real estate with Middle as general partner, another FLP with equities for Eldest. Or perhaps Bank could be or control a corporate general partner of a single FLP.

The lawyers would expound on the engagement at the beginning of the first session and its ethical implications. Throughout, they would represent everyone who appears at family meetings without separate representation. If other lawyers show up, so be it. If the partnership subsumes Bank's role as trustee, and Bank resigns, so be it. Notify the Bank early on. Invite the bankers to explain themselves at the family meeting.

The lawyers need not preside. The family can hire an outside facilitator. With the lawyers present as hard side experts, the facilitator needs only a general understanding of estate planning. A facilitator would bring a clean slate to the table, beholden to no one. The facilitator would not have a history with the family, nor be bogged down by it. The facilitator would always be neutral. His or her only charge is to guide family relationships through the Family Due Diligence process.

A Plea for Family Due Diligence


Too much estate planning still takes place in secret. Without their knowledge or input, benefactors guess at what their beneficiaries want, or ought to want. My concern is that family limited partnerships are presented (though unintentionally) as though the advisor had already performed the Family's Due Diligence. We assume that because the tax savings are so attractive, the FLP just must be in the partners' best interest. Meanwhile, the limited partners don't realize they are a nascent business family, and aren't prepared for the relational stresses their partnership will ultimately create.

For business families preparing to transmit ownership in active operating companies, Family Due Diligence is indispensable. Ordinarily, the estate plan asks some family members to invest their working lives in the company, and asks others to suffer their inheritance to be managed by their relatives indefinitely. The younger generation is infinitely better served if consulted in advance and not taken for granted or by surprise. That was a large part of the problem for the Parable family: Middle and Youngest were taken for granted and by surprise.

Reshaping Your Corral


So what are the client "soft" issues that should properly concern us as estate planners? Which belong in our corrals, and which are free range? Let me answer with a question. How will your work play out in the lives of your clients and the lives of their beneficiaries? At some point in the estate planning cycle you might ask clients three questions:
  1. "Shall we spend some time discussing how this estate plan might affect your lives day-to-day, and the lives of your beneficiaries?"
  2. "Should we include your intended beneficiaries in these discussions?"
  3. "Shall we meet before or after you have decided on a final plan?"

If the clients' answer "no" to all these, you are off the hook. Their soft issues are free range. They will handle (or mishandle) their own soft agendas, perform their own Family Due Diligence (or not perform it)—thank you very much. However, if they want you to participate in their Family Due Diligence, I think your role could be limited, quite appropriately, to helping them understand how your work will play out in their lives. Other soft issues would be free range. The scope of your involvement in their Family Due Diligence will depend, of course, upon the shape of your corral. And the shape of your corral will depend upon your own comfort with client soft issues.

The Family Lens


You and I tend to view other families through the lens of our own family of origin. We tend to see in other families what we saw in our own.
  • In your upbringing, were soft issues downplayed, buried, denied, and ridiculed?
  • Did soft issues connote weakness, irrationality, perhaps a lack of discipline?
  • How do you react when an adult cries or shouts angrily?
  • How do you react when someone touches you, or doesn't?
  • Do you use the words "touchy-feely" and if so, what do you mean by them?
  • Was your family spared divorce, blended families, addictions to alcohol, drugs, or gambling, or mental illnesses, physical abuse, emotional or sexual abuse, financial disasters, tragic injuries, or untimely death?
  • Are you uncomfortable with this?
  • Are you checking your schedule for the next presentation, hoping it's mercifully technical?

These are some of the contours of my family lens:

  • I'm male; I'm Southern, of Huguenot descent, and carry a Medicare Card.
  • Psychological testing confirms that my attention is focused primarily outside myself, on people and events. I dwell much more on possibilities than the here and now. I need to feel right about my decisions. Rather than wait and see, I make decisions quickly.
  • I'm an only child. Though I have three children and several grandchildren, and though I recognize sibling rivalries, I have never lived sibling rivalries. As a dear friend once said: "Gerry, you have missed one of life's great experiences: living in the same household for years with someone who absolutely hates you!"

I'm not suggesting that you need to see a therapist. I am suggesting that our soft side skills and understandings may be pretty primitive and in need of overhaul if we are to help clients truly understand how our planning will play out in their lives.

Some Suggestions for Reshaping Your Corral

  1. Update yourself about the interrelationship of emotions and intelligence.

    By all means read Daniel Goleman's best-seller, Emotional Intelligence. Psychology editor of the New York Times for twenty years, Goleman surveys and summarizes current scientific understanding. A later work by Goleman, Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace is also a useful resource for business families and their advisors.
Emotions are important forces in our lives.

If we were automobiles, emotions would be our drive train—engine, transmission and differential.

Emotions aren't optional. Emotions are always in gear; our emotional engines are always running. Emotions are like a cruise control we can't disengage.

If we fear, or distrust, devalue, or misunderstand emotions, it's like driving with one foot on the intellectual brake. That stresses good automobiles, good people, good families, and good organizations.

Emotional intelligence connects and coordinates our emotions and our intellects. Emotional intelligence is like a steering wheel that helps us guide the driving force of our emotions along the road we need to travel.

Emotional intelligence unlocks the emotional energies your people want to put to work for you. Emotional ignorance wastes resources, sours attitudes, drains enthusiasm, blunts commitment, and assures failure.

Emotional neutrality is not an option.
Go further:
  1. View a family as a system in a systemic world. Family systems thinking views families not as clusters of individuals but as a very complex system of relationships. To learn more you might begin with Fitzpatrick, J. and Francis, A., How Families Work: A Guide to Understanding Family Businesses(ACTEC Foundation 1993) who introduce basic concepts about family systems in the business context. A quick and dirty image of family systems:
    • Imagine a nest of several porcupines snuggling down for the night. If you are a porcupine in nest of other porcupines, three things can happen, and two of them are bad.
    • You can be warmed by other porcupines, or chilled if they aren't close enough.
    • Get too close and you get pricked.
    • A family system is like a nest of porcupines, constantly adjusting to each other.
    • When two porcupines fight, one dies, another brings a new mate to the nest, or leaves, a new one is born--all these occasions call for porcupines to readjust their distances from other porcupines to maintain maximum warmth without pricking.
    • A family is a system of relatives constantly adjusting to each other as circumstances change.

Although Thomas Wolfe wrote You Can't Go Home Again, we never really leave home. Our family of origin is always with us, even if they are dead, or we don't speak, or rarely see each other.

So, continuing the analogy, what is a business family but a nest of porcupines out in the woods foraging together!

Go still further:
  1. Cultivate a very good therapist as a colleague. All too often I'm retained by business families who can't seem to resolve their conflicts. If their soft issues are over my head, I involve a clinical psychologist, social worker, or psychiatrist, or preferably a family business consultant colleague who comes from one of those mental health care disciplines. The therapist's role with my clients is not to do therapy, but to apply their soft side skills to family dispute resolution.

Over the past fifteen years I have spent days and weeks watching therapists work—collaborating with them and picking their brains. I still can't do what they do. I don't have the training, experience, temperament or emotional antennae. To really understand the soft issues, you must learn from a therapist. To unscrew tough soft issues in a highly conflicted family you must be a therapist. At most I have become, as one therapist describes me with faint praise, "a psychologically sensitive lawyer."

I strongly suggest that your new therapist colleague be knowledgeable about family systems and experienced in family therapy. Ideally, the therapist will also have some experience with business families. Your search could begin with client therapists, your personal therapist, or therapists who have functioned as experts. Learn how the therapist was taught, about the values and attitudes of the profession, and what she does during a typical working day. Share the same information about your professional self.

Invite the therapist to your professional study group, and attend hers. Establish a hot line. Talk with her about business families that puzzle you. Invite the therapist to call you about legal, accounting, or wealth issues that puzzle her.

In carefully selected situations, you might invite the therapist to facilitate Family Due Diligence with selected clients. If so, make it clear you are not suggesting the clients are crazy or sick. Limit the therapist's role to insights about how your work will play out in their family system. Have a clear understanding that the therapist will not accept any family member as a therapy client.

Our Grandchildren's Weddings


Just weeks after I entered law practice, our senior partner reached age 65. I wished him Happy Birthday and asked if he intended to work less. "Hell no", he replied, "my clients are just beginning to die!"

Having now celebrated that dubious birthday myself, I listen more closely to the ways my contemporaries talk about aging. More and more I hear their survival aspirations expressed this way, "I want to be there for my grandchildren's weddings."

If, like my generation, our children had married in their early twenties and our grandchildren also, we would be going to those weddings now. But no. The Boomers waited until their thirties, even their forties to start their families. Although my own grandchildren are not only potty trained but reading Harry Potter, and the older ones are struggling with hormones and zits, their weddings are yet years away.

Those of us who do make it to our grandchildren's weddings will have the medical community, genetics, and good fortune on our side.

Those of us who may not be there are sad at the prospect of our families gathering for a grandchild's wedding without us. If we can't attend in person, can't we be there at least in some fashion? Fondly remembered? Respected in retrospect? Still loved in absentia? You don't need to hear this—or perhaps you do. Please—as best you can—help us understand—how your work—will play out in their lives?
  1. "Shall we spend some time discussing how this estate plan might affect your lives day-to-day, and the lives of your beneficiaries?"
  2. "Should we include your intended beneficiaries in these discussions?"
  3. "Shall we meet before or after you have decided on a final plan?"

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