"Things My Clients Taught Me"

Yesterday, my friend and colleague, Candice Aiston, wrote a post over on her blog entitled “Things My Clients Taught Me.”   Candice and I have very similar practice styles and we both approach our work and our clients with deep empathy and compassion.  I enjoy my estate planning work because my clients trust me with their most personal information and allow me not only to advise them about what legal steps they can take to best effectuate their wishes in alignment with their personal values and beliefs, but also because I learn incredibly valuable life lessons from working with each of them.  

And as I have been [choose one: (a) crazy busy with work (b) crazy busy with my family (c) trying to enjoy this summer (d) all of the above] and haven’t managed to complete one of the many half-written blog posts sitting on my computer’s desktop, I asked Candice’s permission to share her post here and she was kind enough to say yes!

“Things My Clients Taught Me,” by Attorney Candice Aiston, Portland, Oregon

Every time I get through a client’s estate planning process, I leave having learned something new. I learn what’s important to them and I learn about the characteristics they have that make them so successful in life. Most families that plan with me record a message to their children, and as they talk to their kids, I gain so much insight about what is important to these families. The families are all different when it comes to wealth, religion, political stance, occupations, and interests/hobbies. But they all have a few different things in common that I’ve noticed over the past few years. The characteristics are apparent throughout our entire planning process. Here are a few:

1. It’s all about priorities.
My clients are all very successful, especially in their family lives. I think this is largely due to the fact that they all have their priorities in the right order. At our first meeting, I hear my clients talk about their families. They tell me how they met their partners and they tell me about their kids. Sometimes the meeting is very emotionally charged, because we face worst-case scenarios and talk about their worst fears. They are there because taking care of their family is a priority, even if they were no longer here. Most of them feel that they’ve put off the planning for too long, and that it’s time to finally get it done. The best story I have heard about priorities came from a colleague of mine, whose clients (parents of young children) decided to use their vacation savings to pay for their estate plan. They decided that the planning was so important that a vacation could wait a little longer. (I have to admit, that would be a tough one for me. Luckily, many attorneys out there have various payment plans available.) All of my clients have made it a priority that you take care of your family first. Everything else comes after that.

2. Plan for the worst, expect the best.

Many people put off important things like estate planning, retirement planning, financial planning, and family budgeting because it’s really tough to face these issues. It’s difficult to face worst-case scenarios in your own mind, let alone discuss them openly with your family. It’s even more of a task to find a professional and set up that first appointment. Sure, everyone is busy, but there’s an additional psychological barrier that makes parents want to fly by the seat of their pants when it comes to this stuff. We seem to think that if we don’t think about death and money that the bad things won’t happen. It is very common for people to be superstitious about estate planning in particular. The idea is that if we acknowledge death and make plans for it, then we’ve admitted that the worst is possible. As long as we ignore it, it won’t happen. The truth is that death weighs heavily on all of our minds and actually holds us back from truly being able to expect the best. Once we have gotten through the process of planning for the worst, that weight is lifted and we can focus on the other important things in our lives.

3. Do the best you can for the ones you love.
The clients I have don’t take information for granted. We all have heard people say, “I need a will,” or, “I need to get something in place.” One thing all of my clients have in common is that they came to the first meeting to learn. They didn’t come to the meeting to tell me what they needed; they came to learn what their situation looks like, and to learn about how they can do the best planning to care for their families. They had questions. They wanted all the facts on the table so that they could make decisions that would work best for their families. It’s not about checking something off of your “to do” list or doing something that everyone says you should do; it’s about doing the best you can for the ones you love.

4. Just do it.
No, I didn’t just throw this one in there because so many of my clients work for/with Nike. All of my clients are pretty good at just doing it. They are all able to weigh pros and cons quickly and get things done. Most of my clients are extremely busy people. If they’re anything like me, they’ve probably had to learn to quickly weigh the facts and make important decisions, because they need to get on with their lives! If they know they need the planning, and they feel that they like me and trust me, the decision is a quick one. (Without those factors in place, no one should make a decision to move forward. If your meeting with a professional leaves you feeling more confused than ever, or if you get a gut feeling that you should leave, then do it! You should only work with someone who makes you feel comfortable and confident. No professional is suited to work with everyone.)

5. Find a way to make it work.
You may be surprised to know that many of my clients weren’t able to just write me a check for the full cost of their planning services. Once they learned how badly they needed the planning, they did what they needed to do to make it work, including asking me if there were payment plans available. Like most things in life, once you’ve decided to make something work, there’s little that can deter you. If you feel that you can’t afford the full cost of services up front, ask your attorney about a payment plan.
It’s hard to know how to conclude this post. I’m sure I have a lot more to learn from my clients over time. Maybe they should charge me a fee for all of this wisdom that they bestow upon me. 🙂

About Danielle G. Van Ess

Danielle G. Van Ess is a Massachusetts (born and raised), experienced estate planning and small business attorney who helps her clients protect and preserve what matters most to them. To learn more, please visit: dgvelaw.com or call: 781-740-0848