Wars, mass shootings, immigration, political discord, fake news, election meddling, data breaches and sexual misconduct are among the topics that seem to have dominated the headlines in 2018.
All this drama can certainly make us feel jittery, unbalanced and nervous that our world is unstable—which is probably true—and it makes me want to focus on things in my life that are stable, like my family and my profession. It’s during these periods I realize that I’m so fortunate to practice in the trusts and estates field, which has the stability of the certainties of death and taxes.
Estate planners are indeed fortunate that we practice and spend our days immersed in an area that feels safe and secure in a time that feels unhinged. While there’s always the possibility of a future gift and estate tax repeal, it seems remote at this point. Additionally, we’re busy helping our clients with many more sophisticated and challenging items than gift and estate taxes, such as business structuring, federal income tax minimization, business succession, state, local and international structuring and tax planning, asset protection, charitable planning, trust formations and operations, wills, estate disputes, trust and estate administration and in general acting as the family legal advisor.
That being understood, in this age of modernization and change, let’s not lose sight of some constants. The following is a list that we all need to keep in mind both when working with clients and reading anxiety-inducing headlines:
- Clients will eventually pass away, and their loved ones will need to be protected and provided for.
- Taxes (in some form) will exist.
- If assets are left unequally to children, there typically will be a dispute.
- Second spouses or children from a previous marriage(s) will not see eye-to-eye on inheritances.
- The person working in the business will feel like he’s being underpaid and deserves to inherit the business, and the other not working in the business will feel that his sibling working in the business is overcompensated.
- Many clients, as well as their children, will get divorced.
- Clients who have children and grandchildren will find that they don’t grow up quite as expected.
- The greatest wish for many clients is that their children get along.
- Advice could make the difference in generations of either having relationships with each other or never speaking again.
- Most clients want to pay as little in taxes as possible.
- Many clients are wonderful and benevolent people who want only to do what’s right and good.
- Clients are human beings: imperfect, well intentioned, and sensitive; even when we represent trusts, companies and nonprofits, there’s always human beings behind them.
- Highly technical legal guidance and assistance is needed, as is empathy, care and understanding.
I feel a little better already.
This is an adapted version of the author’s original article in the January 2019 issue of Trusts & Estates.