In the last article we introduced and discussed the process of the virtuous circle of communication. In this article we will discuss how to communicate in a family meeting.
In Sherry Turkle’s book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk In A Digital Age, she writes about the process of the virtuous circle of communication by discussing the poet, Henry David Thoreau’s moving to Waldon Pond to live more deliberately. Thoreau furnished his cabin with three chairs. One chair to represent solitude, where he could self-reflect on matters most important for him. Two chairs to engage in conversation where he could express his thoughts to another.
Estate planning attorneys help their clients make sound, intentional decisions relating to their estate plans when they manage to help clients minimize guilt, conflict and anxiety. At the same time, survivors should be allowed experience the natural process of grief.
Clients who start the estate planning process do so with the knowledge that they will die one day. This death awareness comes with some degree of death anxiety, as well as anticipatory grief.
All grief starts as anticipatory grief. Dr. Daniel Miller defines the term “anticipatory grief” as the “process of grieving that starts prior to a loved one passing away.”
Facing one’s mortality is the unspoken uneasiness that rests just below the surface of the conversation with an estate planning attorney. Estate planning attorneys are well-versed in the law of estate planning. But as they focus heavily on probate avoidance and tax minimization, they may overlook the emotional, human side of estate planning. Therefore, the best estate planning attorneys are counselors of law with the emphasis on counselor more than law.
Continuing from my last article, I believe that clients really want the estate planning attorney to help them meet their needs so that they can reduce their fear, anxiety and anticipatory grief in light of their knowledge of their inevitable death.
Grief is a natural response to the loss of someone special. The process of grieving allows the griever to adapt to a new world of existence without the loved one. If allowed to proceed through the grieving process with minimal guilt, anxiety, stress, unresolved issues and conflict, we can help each griever experience their grief fully and allow the griever to validate and honor the life of the deceased, and affirm and strengthen relationships with survivors.
Growing up, my family always had a pet. From dogs to cats to frogs and even a chicken for a day, pets have always been a part of my life. Today, our pet family consists of three dogs, a guinea pig, a bunny and frogs. Our pets are not just animals but members of our family. And like our family members, we want to ensure that they are taken care of after we are gone.
Parents often struggle with the concepts of equal, equitable, fairness and adequacy when it comes to the distribution of their assets among their children. Defining these terms will help us make the decision that most closely reflects our intention.
As an estate planning attorney, I observe how families decide to distribute their assets among their children. I have seen two main standards used to determine the gift. First is the standard of meeting needs and wants. As parents, we know the needs and wants of our children, and do our best to meet both of these.
Two of the most frequently asked questions I hear are “How do I choose a trustee?” and “Am I choosing the right trustee?” Here are six criteria to help you choose the right fiduciary for you.
According to the book, Preparing Heirs: Five Steps to a Successful Transition of Family Wealth and Values, “60 percent of transition failures were caused by a breakdown of communication and trust within the family unit.” With the aging demographic of baby boomers, the high cost of living in Hawai‘i and the increase in multigenerational homes, the potential influx in trust litigation is foreseeable.
Passing on keepsakes to those we care about and who we know will cherish them can be a meaningful experience. We hope that the recipient of these items will continue to find value and meaning in the keepsake long after we are gone.
I have noticed a troubling emerging trend in estate planning. More families are owning property with different generations. This could be because real estate in Hawai‘i is expensive to purchase and even harder to maintain and keep. It is further exacerbated in situations where there are multiple children beneficiaries and/or where the parents need to leverage the equity in the home for their care, and are unable to access the equity due to a lack of income.
Trust beneficiaries are sometimes left to wonder why a decedent instructed that a trust distribution be made in a particular way. The trust clearly identified who the beneficiaries were, what they were to receive and how they were to receive. But unfortunately, the trust was silent as to the “why” of the distribution — the underlying reason and purpose for creating the trust in the first place.
It’s natural to experience grief when we lose a loved one. While we often associate grief with the death of a loved one, we can also experience it when we get divorced or when ties with a friend become severed. Everyone experiences grief differently. Some are able to move on, while others are unable to process their loss.
I recently received a call from a concerned parent of an adult special needs child. Her son was recently diagnosed with schizophrenia, refuses to take his medication and has been living on the street. Unable to physically care for her child and experiencing a health scare of her own, she decided it was time to get “her ducks in order” and contacted our office. Her main wish is to continue to provide financially for her son’s present and future care without disrupting his governmental disability benefits.
As a member of ACTEC, I am privileged to learn from and exchange ideas with some of the most skilled and dedicated trust and estate lawyers in Hawai‘i. I often wonder why most of our discussions focus on probate and litigation issues rather than on how we can help plan to mitigate family conflict and avoid probate.
Siblingship is the state of being related or interrelated, or a state of affairs existing between one of two or more individuals having one common parent. The term describes the unique, dynamic relationship existing between siblings. Siblings begin their relationship at a very young age. They experience joys and setbacks together — laugh and cry together. And through fighting, they can learn conflict resolution together. No other relationship is like siblingship.
Over 54 million adults and children in the U.S. have a disability. The concerns of parents of disabled children are the same for most any parent — ensuring that their children are safe, happy and live a meaningful life. Some children may be unable to earn a living. Both the federal and state governments understand this and provide benefits so that they receive food, shelter and medical care.
We have been receiving an increased number of phone calls from our clients’ children, notifying us about the imminent death of one of their parents. The children usually call in a panic, asking if anything needs to be done before their parent passes. We do our best to assist them; however, sometimes it is just too late.
A frantic mother once called me after her daughter was injured in a ski accident. When she called the hospital to find out the status of her daughter, hospital personnel would’t release any information and didn’t allow her make decisions on her child’s behalf. Just imagine the stress this caused! This situation is all too common. When a child leave for college, for example, in the eyes of the law, he or she is now an adult and parental rights cease. This fact is often overlooked.
How nice would it be if your child was born with an operating manual? There are many parenting books out there, but none that are specifically made for your child. The obvious reason for this is because the only person who can write an operating manual for a child, is the person who is raising the child.
A few years ago, I created the Heartfelt Advance Care Plan booklet to provide my clients with a tool to improve their end-of-life care, to honor their choices and to reduce conflict and guilt among surviving family members. Those who do fill it out usually comment about how difficult yet rewarding it was to complete. Asking and answering detailed questions about end-of-life wishes, regardless of how difficult it may be, is tremendously helpful to both the dying and their survivors.
We often struggle with the concepts of equal, equitable, fair, and adequate when it comes to the distribution of our assets among our children. Understanding the meaning of each term helps us make the decision that most closely reflects our intention.
Making an estate plan that clearly documents intention helps surviving family members avoid fighting; especially in court. Yet lawyers will write the estate plan for exactly that purpose — writing as if it were going to be fought over in court. I call this legalese legal dis-ease. Write your intentions down in your own hand-writing for inclusion in your estate plan so that you don’t risk miscommunication or misunderstanding among surviving family members.
There is no “good grief” or “bad grief”— there is only grief. Drs. Kenneth Doka and Terry Martin* suggest that there are two types of grievers: “instrumental” and “intuitive.” Neither type is deficient; only different. Understanding the difference can allow family members to empathize with, rather than attribute bad motives to, another family member.
It is not just families who disagree about the interpretation of legal documents. There seems to be tension among estate planning attorneys in regard to recommending that clients write down their heartfelt intentions to accompany those documents. Many lawyers believe that it is the form that is most important — that the written legal language will communicate their client’s heartfelt wishes. Others believe that, no matter how carefully written, the form alone cannot transfer intention.
Ideally, estate planning is “by invitation only.” Most people misunderstand this to mean that we, as the lawyers, are the ones doing the inviting. In actuality, it’s you, the clients, who are doing the inviting, by inviting us into your unique and textured lives.
Before you panic about the new “Hawai‘i Aid in Dying Law,” it’s a great law but not for the reasons you may think. Governor Ige signed the Our Care, Our Choice Act on April 5, 2018 and it will become law on January 1, 2019. The new law’s purpose is to establish a regulated process whereby a mentally competent adult resident of Hawai‘i with a terminal illness and less than six months to live may choose to end life with a prescription.
I had been preparing to write about the importance of conversation in estate planning while watching a documentary on HBO called Cries From Syria. In the midst of this heart-wrenching story about the Syrian situation—a girl, who could not have been older than 8 or 9—facing death from starvation and preparing her will. It had nothing to do with money.
The Hidden Costs of Probate Court by Stephen B. Yim, Attorney at Law from the Oct-Nov 2016 issue of Generations Magazine, Hawai‘i’s Resource for Life
Put Your Voice Into Your Estate Plan by Stephen B. Yim, Attorney at Law from the August-September 2016 issue of Generations Magazine, Hawai‘i’s Resource for Life
Sycamore Row by Stephen B. Yim, Attorney at Law from the June-May 2016 issue of Generations Magazine, Hawai‘i’s Resource for Life