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The Traditional (and Broken) Law Business Model, Applied to Estate Planning

April 22, 2020

The traditional law business model is broken.

Here’s how the Estate Planning process typically goes with the traditional model:

Potential Client (PC) calls Lawyer for a will, usually. Lawyer calls PC back and says, “Sure when can you come in? We’ll get you taken care of.” Maybe PC asks Lawyer, “How much for a will?” and Lawyer hems and haws, or quotes a price, and then say, “But hey come on in for an initial consultation, it’s free.” Maybe PC decides to schedule a free initial consultation. Maybe the PC keeps their appointment, but maybe not.

If PC keeps their appointment, it’s a “meet and greets” type of meeting in which a lawyer doesn’t have much of a process. Maybe Lawyer has sent out an estate planning worksheet in advance. Maybe PC has filled out the worksheet, maybe not.

During the initial consultation, PC ends up feeling somewhat confused, and either trusts what Lawyer says they need to get in place and thinks it’s a reasonable price based on what their friends paid, usually around $1,500, or Client leaves to shop around, doing research on the internet or asking friends or neighbors what they paid. (Here’s an article on why that’s a terrible idea.)

Or, maybe PC says “okay, I’ve talked with other lawyers, and that sounds reasonable” even though PC doesn’t really understand what they need, or why the Lawyer is recommending that specific type of planning. But, PC only knows how to decide whether to move forward based on price, so if the price seems right, the PC agrees.

If PC does decide to go forward and become a Client, Lawyer asks questions that may leave Client even more confused, and not sure how to answer, but Client picks whatever sounds good, and then Client writes a check (or maybe doesn’t) and leaves the office.

The lawyer asks PC questions but doesn’t necessarily help PC to understand the consequences of decisions, or even the various available options because Lawyer doesn’t really have a great process for choice-making, and usually makes most decisions for the Client.

The client doesn’t hear anything and wonders what’s next.

Sometime later (could be days, weeks, or months), Lawyer sends a thick stack of documents out to the Client with a cover letter that says review these, and then call me to schedule your signing.

But, the client doesn’t really know what to look at in the documents. So, the documents sit on the client’s chair or desk or counter, or in their email inbox.

The lawyer calls the client to see how the review is going. Maybe. In some cases, the lawyer just waits to hear from Client.

Sometimes, the client never signs the documents at all. In the event Client does schedule signing, Client goes into Lawyer’s office and signs the documents, still not entirely sure 2 what they are signing, but figuring it must be okay.

The lawyer sends the client home with a binder full of documents.

The client puts the binder on a shelf, checks off “estate planning” on the task list, and never thinks about estate planning again — but here’s where that goes wrong.

clients' assets don’t get appropriately retitled. Planning documents are never updated. Things change in the client’s life, but the client doesn’t think to contact Lawyer. The lawyer has moved on to the next new client and doesn’t think to follow up with the client.

Some years later, the client gets in an accident and becomes incapacitated, or dies. The client’s family doesn’t know what to do. They find the fancy binder in a drawer, call Lawyer, and Lawyer invites Family in to review the estate planning documents. The family has no idea what assets there are, where to find them, or really what to do.

A lawyer discovers that some assets were never put into the Trust. Lawyer drafted and signs Family up for Probate of those assets, or if Client is incapacitated, Lawyer may have to go to court to file for guardianship so Family can get access to the assets. And it may even leave Family in a conflict that Lawyer didn’t anticipate because Lawyer didn’t know how to inquire into the family dynamics when planning. If there are minor children at home, they may have even been taken into the care of strangers or someone the Client wouldn’t choose, because guardians were named, only in a Will, and the Will couldn’t even be located easily, and then required court proceedings to be effective.

The family is grieving, lost, and confused, and the lawyer doesn’t really feel good about the whole process. Lawyer questions why they are even doing estate planning when clients can just go online and do it themselves with pretty much the same results.

That’s the traditional “transactional” estate planning experience, which doesn’t save Family any money or grief at all; it’s no wonder that most lawyers would think that estate planning is an undesirable practice area. Because in most cases, it is.

As your Personal Family Lawyer, our customized estate planning services will preserve and pass on not just your financial wealth, but your most treasured family values as well. Schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session today, so we can discuss what kind of assets you have, what matters most to you, and what you want to leave behind.

Contact us today to schedule your appointment.

This article is a service of Stephanie Scarborough, Personal Family Lawyer. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love.