Document or Relationship?

Will Power 

Craig R. Hersch 

Florida Bar Board Certified Wills, Trusts & Estates Attorney; CPA 

 In today’s experience economy, transactions are commoditized. I’m old enough to remember a time when almost every neighborhood strip shopping center had a Blockbuster Video, a travel agency, a video arcade and a bookstore. Today’s technology overwhelmed all of those businesses.  

From our living rooms we call up movies on demand. Instead of printing out the green airline tickets at the travel agency, we book our air, hotel, rental car and other travel necessities from our Smartphones, laptops or tablets. Our teenagers play video games, in real time, against others from around the globe from their Xboxes. Any book you desire can be delivered from Amazon tomorrow. 

These are all advancements that none of us would want to give up. But they’re transactions. Where do transactions end, however? Service industries have become commoditized as well. Why pay your stockbroker when you can invest in a low-cost mutual fund online? How about your CPA? You can prepare your 1040 for free with online tools. As for your friendly estate planning attorney, Legalzoom and RocketLawyer will create your estate plan.  

What we give up when we seek transactions, however, is the wisdom of the seasoned professional who can guide you to create legal, tax and financial strategies that endure through tough times. Clients tend to underestimate the knowledge and experience that goes into creating a plan that works. 

Consider who you name as your successor trustee, for example. An online program will prompt you who you want to serve in that capacity. So you put down your oldest son, “Robert”. Does Robert have any idea what his responsibilities will be in the event of your disability? In the event of your death? I have a plethora of information on my website, www.floridaestateplanning.com on these very subjects. 

I even wrote a book, “Selecting Your Trustee”. It’s available on my website. You can have the best legal documents in the world, but if you haven’t actually transferred your assets properly to your trust, or if you have selected the wrong person to act for you in the event of your illness or death, your plan still may fail. 

I describe in the preface of my book the time that I had to act as a trustee for my ailing mother. My father and mother were at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, as she needed a bone marrow transplant to save her from AML, an aggressive and deadly form of leukemia. She only had a 10% chance of survival, and the process would take almost a full year. My sister and I set my father up in a furnished apartment in Houston (they resided in Fort Myers) so he could be her caretaker. 

At the time, my mother wasn’t yet on Medicare, and her health insurance company balked at paying the $750,000 this procedure would cost. My parents asked me to step in as their trustee during this trying time. Who better to serve than me? I am a board-certified wills, trusts and estates attorney and I also hold my license as a CPA. Less than 7% of Florida attorneys are board certified, by the way. You can look up which attorneys in your community are board certified on the Florida Bar website (https://www.floridabar.org/about/cert/cert-ep/) 

I will tell you that the job of serving as my parents’ trustee was too much for me. I was busy running my law practice. My daughters were much younger then, as my wife and I had a very busy home life as well. My sister and I took turns flying out to Houston to check on our parents. It was an overwhelming time. 

Not to mention that if I missed one of Mom’s health insurance payments, or if I didn’t transfer enough money from their money market to their checking account, the insurance company would drop her like a hot potato and she would have died. She survived the procedure, by the way, which gave us six years of remission. The disease came back. Back she went to MD Anderson for a stem cell transplant which gave her another four years. Sadly, my mother died two years ago. 

I called in a professional trust company to serve alongside me and do some of the every day lifting that I didn’t have the time to do. 

I can’t describe to you the trials and tribulations I encountered while serving as my parents’ trustee. It was a tremendous learning experience for me being on the “other side of the desk” as the doer rather than as the advisor. I learned a lot that I now use when counseling the families that I serve. 

What I ask my clients when we are selecting who will serve in their important roles is this: If an experienced board-certified wills, trusts and estates attorney/CPA felt overwhelmed, how will your child feel? What safeguards might we include to make your adult child/trustee’s life easier if she has to act for you? Will there be any conflict between her and any siblings after your death with the many decisions that must be made during a probate or trust administration? The questions go on. They take careful thought in order to create a plan that will endure. 

You can’t get that wisdom on the Internet, nor will you ever be able to. Almost every day in my practice I’m helping my clients’ families deal with everyday life issues that revolve around their legal, tax and financial wellbeing. I truly enjoy doing so. But that’s the difference between a relationship and a transaction. You aren’t buying a book or an airline ticket. These are real issues that matter. I hope you gather the difference now between something that is okay to treat as a commodity, and something else that might require your collaboration with a wise and experienced professional. 

©2023 Craig R. Hersch. Learn more at www.floridaestateplanning.com 

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