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.
An estate planning attorney can achieve this balance by:
• Creating a safe, comfortable physical environment
• Utilizing good counseling skills
• Encouraging and facilitating open, transparent and respectful communication among family members and others involved in the estate.
Facing one’s mortality, visiting with an attorney, worrying about costs and dealing with new terminology can cause clients to experience stress. No one can make sound decisions while under stress. In Janice Mucalov’s article entitled “Lawyers: Gatekeepers for Psychological Issues,” she outlines the precarious nature of this issue.
“Emotionally distressed clients pose greater risks than non-distressed clients,” she writes. “Because emotions cloud their thinking, you may fail to appreciate the nature of the client’s problems, or they may fail to understand your advice.”
Truly, the estate planner’s first effort should be in creating a safe, calm environment for the client. This will reduce stress.
Attorneys will want to learn and apply good counseling skills in order to help clients make the best decisions regarding their estate plans. Carl Rogers introduces a particularly useful method of counseling for estate planning in his work On Becoming a Person. He proposes developing and applying three qualities of counseling:
• Meet and interact with each client in counseling with genuineness and congruence.
• Enter each relationship and treat each clientwith unconditional positive regard.
• Enter and engage each counseling session with empathic understanding.
Estate planning attorneys must emphasize that because life is fluid, a periodic review of the client’s estate plan is essential in order to ensure that the plan remains current. How often the client meets with the attorney depends on the client’s particular situation and need. The process, however, remains constant. Estate planners can provide guides for each client to sit in self-reflection and consider for themselves what is most important with respect to healthcare and quality of life choices, as well as how to plan their financial estate.