Estate Planning Can Help With Financial Organization

March 30, 2013

A few weeks ago I came across this New York Times online article about a woman who had to make organization out of chaos when her husband was hit and seriously injured riding his bicycle.   The article talks about how her necessary quest to organize their disarrayed financial life led to a website that now helps others do the same.  Her situation is not all that uncommon – its thrust upon many families through Michigan and the rest of the country each year.  We don’t know what’s going to happen to us or when it will happen to us, so the old adage of always being prepared is good advice.

But did you know that a comprehensive, well-drafted estate plan can actually help you through the financial and life organization process?  You bet!  Sure, there are forms, online services, and even attorneys who merely prepare forms, but what I’m referring to in a comprehensive plan is something that goes beyond just the legal bare necessities.  For instance, for all of our clients who feel a trust-based estate plan will be best for their family, we help them get a clear picture of what assets they have, how they are owned and whether or not they are coordinated with the plan we’re draft for them.  And if they aren’t, we provide them with a “funding toolkit” that guides them through the process and we followup with them on a regular basis after their plan is signed.  Because as you may have read in this previous blog post, just “having a trust” is not enough . . . the trust must be “funded.”

So, how about you and your family?  Do you know beyond a doubt what you have, whose name it’s in, and who would receive it if something happened to you?  If not, why not let getting a new (or updated) estate plane help you have the clarity you need to have added peace of mind?  Call us at 616-827-7596 and schedule your personal Peace of Mind Planning Session to get started today!

Michael Lichterman is an estate planning and charitable planning attorney who helps families and business owners create a lasting legacy by planning for their Whole Family Wealth™.  This goes beyond merely planning for “stuff” – it’s about who your are and what’s important to you.  He focuses on estate, charitable, and asset protection planning for all generations (“young” and “experienced”), the “sandwich generation” (caring for parents and children), doctors/physicians, nurses, lawyers, dentists, professionals with minor children, family owned businesses, and pet planning.  He enjoys creating life long relationships with his clients centered on their family’s values, insights, stories and experiences.

The Value of Family Stories in Your Estate Plan

October 27, 2012

Most families think of “wealth” as a dollar amount or financial standing.  Yet, the true “wealth” that all of us has is our values, insights, stories and experiences – this is what I call Whole Family Wealth.   Making sure that this “intangible” wealth is part of your estate plan is critical.  Yet, very, very few families take the step to include this true “wealth” in their plan – and, sadly, very, very few attorneys ever think about it.

But it’s beyond important, which is why we include a Priceless Conversation in our planning with each of our client families.  It’s recorded conversation on any number of topics, meant to capture a little bit of who they are and what’s important to them.  I’m very passionate about each client family doing a Priceless Conversation.  And yes, sometimes maybe even a little pushy.  But with good reason – because I’ve made the mistake of missing one and you can read about it in this previous post.  That was the hardest post I’ve written, from an emotional standpoint.

And I was beyond touched to recently read this post by one of my wonderful client families.  I’m not going to reproduce any of it here because it is well worth your time to read it yourself.  Let’s just say that they truly realize the gift they are giving their children through capturing their Whole Family Wealth through Priceless Conversations and, moreso, through their blog.  And don’t forget to read the comments at the bottom of post.  They are powerful and share personal stories of how important this “intangible” wealth is.

Ready to have an estate plan for your Whole Family Wealth not just financial assets?  Call us at 616-827-7596 to schedule a Peace of Mind Planning Session today!

Michael Lichterman is an estate planning and charitable planning attorney who helps families and business owners create a lasting legacy by planning for their Whole Family Wealth™.  This goes beyond merely planning for “stuff” – it’s about who your are and what’s important to you.  He focuses on estate, charitable, and asset protection planning for all generations (“young” and “experienced”), the “sandwich generation” (caring for parents and children), doctors/physicians, nurses, lawyers, dentists, professionals with minor children, family owned businesses, and pet planning.  He enjoys creating life long relationships with his clients centered on their family’s values, insights, stories and experiences.

The Critical Importance of Estate Planning for Women

August 28, 2011

I recently ran across this Forbes.com article about how critically important estate planning is for women.  The article points out how women have been responsible for many accomplishments throughout time and how many of them have become quite successful by any standard.  Yet, even with their increased stature and accomplishment, it seems few have taken the time to do proper estate planning.  The article gives a very interesting statistic comparing weight loss and estate planning . . . you’ll have to read it.

Some of the reasons pointed out in the article for women to do estate planning right now are:

  • Women are more likely to live longer,
  • Married women are more likely to outlive their spouse than are men,
  • “Traditional” estate planning seems to minimize the role of women in the planning, and
  • Your children could very well be lost in the shuffle and end up with caregivers you would not want if something happened to you.

As a Grand Rapids, Mi estate planning lawyer many of my clients have expressed one or more of the above concerns when discussing their planning.  As with most estate planning articles I read, Ms. Jacobs points out the importance of naming guardians in your Will for your minor children.  And like most articles, she stops there.  Well, if you want to help ensure that your children don’t end up in the arms of strangers for any period of time, you need to do much more than just put guardian nominations in your Will.  That’s why all of my clients with minor children have a Children Protection Plan.

And is typical of estate planning articles, the focus is on financial assets.  No matter what your age, children or no children, married or not married, you should look far beyond the financial assets and work with a Michigan estate planning attorney who can help you plan for your Whole Family Wealth – not just what you have but also who you are!  All women have valuable values, insights, stories and experiences that should be shared with family, friends and acquaintances.  And yet, the one thing that is lost when someone passes away – the non-financial assets – is the thing that “traditional” estate planners overlook.

To all the women reading this, please read the article.  Then read it again in light of this blog post.  After reading both, why wouldn’t you “take charge” and move forward with your estate planning?  Your family’s future could very well depend on you!

Michael Lichterman is an estate planning and business planning attorney who helps families and business owners create a lasting legacy by planning for their Whole Family Wealth™.  This goes beyond merely planning for finances – it’s about who your are and what’s important to you.  He focuses on estate and asset protection planning for  the “experienced” generation, the “sandwich generation” (caring for parents and children), doctors/physicians, nurses, lawyers, dentists, professionals with minor children, family owned businesses and pet planning.  He takes the “counselor” part of attorney and counselor at law very seriously, and enjoys creating life long relationships with his clients – many of which have become great friends.

Family Stories as a Priceless Treasure

July 31, 2011

This post was originally one of my bi-weekly e-newsletters that I send to my clients, friends, family and those who have asked to receive it.  It received an unprecedented response from those who read it and I am grateful for the kind words that were shared with me.  I thought twice before reproducing it here for 2 reasons: (1) I don’t like to reproduce things – I like to be original each time (or as near to original as I can be), and (2) it brought up all the same emotions it did when I first wrote it.  I decided to go ahead and share it because the topic is too important to not share.  Please share your comments and thoughts – and if you would like to receive the e-newsletter, let us know via our contact us page.  Without further ado, we’ll pick up in the e-newsletter as I get into the topic . . .

. . . Even with all the fun and enjoyment of the July 4th holiday, I did receive some very sad news since the last e-newsletter.  My grandpa (“papaw”) passed away after a long bout with cancer.  By God’s grace he made it much longer than the doctors expected, but it still wasn’t enough time for us.  And in the hustle and bustle of family life and running the law practice, I have one big regret.  This is by far the most emotionally challenging e-newsletter I have written, but I’m hoping that you won’t make the same mistake I did.  Which leads to this week’s strategy note . . .

Mike Lichterman’s
“Straight Talk” Personal Strategy
Stories of our Forefathers
Sure, given the recent 4th of July holiday the title could refer to stories of Franklin, Jefferson, Adams and many of the founders of our great country.  In this case, it is a reference to happy and sad, joy and regret, memories and forgotten memories.

This past Christmas, all of my mom’s family gathered together to celebrate (we try to do that every 3 years).  This year was particularly important, as Papaw was not doing so well health wise.  He still seemed to have a lot of strength, but you could never be sure with him because he was such a strong man . . . he wouldn’t show pain because he didn’t want folks to worry about him.  I still remember a few years back when we visited him in Florida and he said, “well, I hope you didn’t come down here to see some sick guy . . . I’m doing just fine . . . and it’s great to have you all down here.”

Little did I know that this past Christmas was the last time I would see or talk to him.  Yes, that was as hard to write as you might expect.  I’m so thankful that we had that time and that he got to spend some time with Matthew and Elizabeth (they loved their Papaw and rode on his knee just like I did when I was growing up).  But OH the things I would have done different had I known it would be the last time.

You probably know about the priceless conversations that I have with all of my clients.  The recorded conversation about any number of topics, from children to legacies, wisdom and values.   I call it planning for your Whole Family Wealth, because your values, insights, stories and experiences or your most valuable asset.  Here comes the hardest part of the email . . . I never did a priceless conversation with my Papaw and it tears my heart out every time I think about it.  He had so many great stories and pearls of wisdom and to have it recorded in his own voice would truly be priceless.

Sure, we talked about doing it at Christmas.  Many of us felt we couldn’t do it because we were too close to the conversation emotionally.  Papaw felt he couldn’t do it because he didn’t think he had anything valuable to share.  Long story short, time moved forward, he went “down hill” quickly, passed away and the conversation was never done.  I’m beyond disappointed in myself for not pushing myself harder to do it.

Sure, maybe I’m being to hard on myself and maybe writing this was a way to grieve and move on, but in my mind the point of sharing the story with you is twofold: (1) did you feel the emotion and the power in the story?  That’s why they need to be shared, and (2) please, please don’t make the same mistake I did.

I expect all my clients to live long, health, joy-filled lives.  But I know that at some point we all will pass from this life.  If I’m alive when it happens to my clients I can assure you that the most valuable thing I will be able to provide their loved ones with is not guidance through a difficult situation, it’s not being a sounding board for grief and frustration, no . . . it will be handing them each a copy of the priceless conversation CDs their parents (or sibling or child) recorded as part of the estate plan we helped them put in place.

I know this was long and probably more personal than you would expect in my e-newsletters, but I wanted to make sure I shared the story and what I learned from it.  I wish you the very best and I hope you have a fantastic week!

Warmly (and until next time!),
Mike Lichterman

Michael Lichterman is an estate planning and business planning attorney who helps families and business owners create a lasting legacy by planning for their Whole Family Wealth™.  This goes beyond merely planning for finances – it’s about who your are and what’s important to you.  He focuses on estate and asset protection planning for  the “experienced” generation, the “sandwich generation” (caring for parents and children), doctors/physicians, nurses, lawyers, dentists, professionals with minor children, family owned businesses and pet planning.  He takes the “counselor” part of attorney and counselor at law very seriously, and enjoys creating life long relationships with his clients – many of which have become great friends.

Michigan Legacy Planning . . . Not Your Regular Estate Plan

February 27, 2011

As a Grand Rapids, Michigan estate planning attorney I’ve heard a lot of “chicken little” comments among some of my colleagues as a result of the recent changes to estate tax law.  You see, many attorneys who draft estate plans relied on fear of the estate tax as a way of attracting new clients.  With the tax law changes far fewer families will be affected by the estate tax (at least temporarily).

And yet at the same time, as a Grand Rapids, Michigan wills and trusts attorney who focuses on helping families create a legacy through Whole Family Wealth™ Planning, I’m seeing an increase in families becoming part of the Lichterman Law family.

Which leads me to this USAA article I recently came across.  Besides being a good overview of the recent changes to the estate tax and a reminder of the importance of having your plan reviewed, it points out the importance of viewing “estate planning” as what it truly is . . . “legacy planning.”  As the article points out, “there’s far more to estate planning than just taxes.”

What “more” are they talking about?  As the article says, “the real point of an estate plan is to make it as easy as possible for your heirs to carry on and to ensure your assets go where you want them to.”  I agree with that, but think they left out one very important thing . . . the key behind Whole Family Wealth™ Planning.  That is to use estate planning to pass on who you are and what is most important to you – your values, insights, stories and experience.  To me, that is truly a lasting legacy.

Why would you want to leave your family guessing about what to do, where to go and how to handle your assets?  Do you want to leave them without your most valuable asset . . . who you are as a person?  Call us at 616-827-7596 right now to take the important step of starting your legacy plan.  Mention this blog post and we’ll waive the Peace of Mind Planning Session fee ($750 value!).

Michael Lichterman is an estate planning and business planning attorney who helps families and business owners create a lasting legacy by planning for their Whole Family Wealth™.  This goes beyond merely planning for finances – it’s about who your are and what’s important to you.  He focuses on estate and asset protection planning for  the “experienced” generation, the “sandwich generation” (caring for parents and children), doctors/physicians, nurses, lawyers, dentists, professionals with minor children, family owned businesses and pet planning.  He takes the “counselor” part of attorney and counselor at law very seriously, and enjoys creating life long relationships with his clients – many of which have become great friends.


Intangible Assets and Your Burning House

January 23, 2011

As a Grand Rapids, Mi estate planning lawyer who focuses on helping you plan for your Whole Family Wealth™, I consider it my calling to determine what my clients truly care about and then, and only then, move forward with helping them plan to make sure their wishes are followed if something happened to them.

The tragedy of several West Michigan homes burning down (or partially down) over the past month has provided a prime example of what this Whole Family Wealth™ is.  I think most would agree that having your home burn down is a horrible tragedy, only made better if nobody is injured.  So what does a home burning down without any human injury have to do with estate planning?

Ask yourself this question: if your home was on fire, would you reach for the money you may have hidden in a drawer  or would you try to save the photo album that has the only pictures of your children as babies?  If you answered the way I expect you did, ask yourself if “traditional” estate planning is right for you or if you need something more.  Traditional estate planning focuses on money and assets . . . who you are and what is important to you is not a consideration.

Give it some serious thought because your answer (and more importantly your action or inaction) is what will shape your legacy.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking a “legacy” is something you have to wait until the end of your life to create. Call us at 616-827-7596 to schedule a Peace of Mind Planning Session to discover how you can share your values, insights, stories and experiences . . . not just your “stuff.”  Mention this blog post and we’ll waive the planning session fee (a $750 value!).

Michael Lichterman is an estate planning attorney who helps families and business owners create a lasting legacy by planning for their Whole Family Wealth™.  This goes beyond merely planning for finances – it’s about who your are and what’s important to you.  He focuses on estate and asset protection planning for  the “experienced” generation, the “sandwich generation” (caring for parents and children), doctors/physicians, nurses, lawyers, dentists, professionals with minor children, family owned businesses and pet planning.  He takes the “counselor” part of attorney and counselor at law very seriously, and enjoys creating life long relationships with his clients – many of which have become great friends.

Don’t Forget Your Intangible Assets

December 27, 2010

A good friend of mine recently shared a story with me that had my gut wrenched when I read it.  She knows that I focus on helping families plan not just for that they have, but also for who they are – their values, insight, stories and experiences – and the story proves just how important that is.  This is planning for your Whole Family Wealth™.

Don’t underestimate who you are and what you mean to your family, friends and society as a whole.  We all have stories to share that can help and set examples for others.  Yet many great people I talk with feel that “leaving a legacy” is something that they’ll do much later in life, that they don’t have a “legacy” to leave right now.  Trust me when I say that is completely untrue!

And don’t just take it from me.  Read this article and watch the video.  You can view it by clicking here. I will let it speak for itself.  Please share your thoughts and comments after you read, watch and think about it.

Michael Lichterman is an estate planning attorney who helps families and business owners create a lasting legacy by planning for their Whole Family Wealth™.  This goes beyond merely planning for finances – it’s about who your are and what’s important to you.  He focuses on planning for  the “experienced” generation, the “sandwich generation” (caring for parents and children), doctors/physicians, nurses, lawyers, dentists, professionals with minor children, family owned business succession and pet planning – and he is privileged to do so from a Christian perspective.  He takes the “counselor” part of attorney and counselor at law very seriously, and enjoys creating life long relationships with his clients – many of which have become great friends.

Life Is More Than Money: Leaving a Lasting Legacy

November 14, 2010

I’ve made a presentation to several different groups entitled “Life Is More Than Money: 5 Common Estate Planning Mistakes That Could Leave Your Family Without a Legacy.”  Why am I telling you that?  Because I recently read this NY Times article and it seems that more people are realizing the value of estate planning for their “intangible wealth.”  I’m happy to say I’ve been helping Grand Rapids area families plan for their “intangible wealth” for some time now through my focus on Whole Family Wealth Planning™.

The article points out the importance of considering and planning for the legacy you will leave for your family by thinking of the “intangible assets” you will pass on, such as your values, insights, stories and experiences.  I applaud the article’s author for realizing this important fact – when something happens to you, your “stuff” is left, but you are gone.  That may go without saying, but many families and, dare I say it, attorneys, don’t think about that.  That’s why I focus on helping families plan for who they are and what is important to them . . . not just what they have.

Remember, estate planning is not something you do for yourself.  It’s something that you do for those you love the most because they are the ones that will have to deal with the ease or burden of what you did or didn’t do planning-wise.  Estate planning really is an expression of your love for your family . . . one far greater than a new toy, going to the best college or having the nicest house.  You are planning for their future and future generations.

You’ll also notice that the author used a team approach to planning.  Absolutely . . . this is the best way to make sure you have all your “ducks in a row.”  A financial adviser, CPA and an estate planning attorney that focuses on Whole Family Wealth Planning™ are the keys to developing a lasting legacy.  Of course, the professionals need to have knowledge and experience in legacy planning, otherwise you end up with just a set of documents and nothing more.  Carefully consider this when you do estate planning.

And finally…DO IT!  Procrastination is the killer of legacies…don’t let your delay leave your family without the benefit of your life experiences and the guidance and direction you want for them.  Call us now at 616-827-7596 to schedule your Peace of Mind Planning Session (note the peace of mind the author got from planning).  Mention this blog post and we’ll waive the meeting fee ($750 value)!

Michael Lichterman is an estate planning attorney who helps families and business owners create a lasting legacy by planning for their Whole Family Wealth™.  This goes beyond merely planning for finances – it’s about who your are and what’s important to you.  He focuses on planning for  the “experienced” generation, the “sandwich generation” (caring for parents and children), doctors/physicians, nurses, lawyers, dentists, professionals with minor children, and family owned business succession – and he is privileged to do so from a Christian perspective.  He takes the “counselor” part of attorney and counselor at law very seriously, and enjoys creating life long relationships with his clients – many of which have become great friends.

The Importance of Your Parents’ Estate Plan

September 8, 2010

A thoughtful estate plan can make your family’s lives easier. But it is your parents’ estate planning that will make your life easier.

Not every family has fostered the ability to speak openly in love–I’ve written about that necessity in the past. But if you have begun that process, here is an outline of what grown children need to know about their parents’ affairs. In fact, adults of any age should review their estate plan at least every 3 years.

Children may wish to ask their parents about their financial status but worry about being overly intrusive. Or they fear their elders may perceive their questions as motivated by self-interest. They may conclude mistakenly that their parents would prefer to keep their finances private.

However, whether it’s our parents or ourselves, we are all certainly mortal, so planning for the future is always wise. Estate planning is just as critical when we are young as when we get older. And if you think estate planning information is hard for YOU to pull together, imagine how challenging it would be for someone else who may have to step in for you during a family crisis.

As a parent, if you are willing to share some of this information with your children (or ask about it if you are a child)–especially if one of them is also the executor of the estate or trustee–they’ll appreciate having the facts and be more prepared emotionally when the time comes. They will know your wishes ultimately anyway, and good communication will lessen any surprises ahead of time. They will benefit from knowing the answers to the following questions:

Do you have enough saved for a comfortable retirement?
Many financial planners use a safe withdrawal rate by age to make sure their clients will still have enough money toward the end of their retirement. But this isn’t always the case, and it’s worth looking into.

If your spending is under this withdrawal rate, you have more than enough and probably can leave a family legacy. But if you are over this rate, you may run out of money and have to compromise your standard of living abruptly. It may be uncomfortable, even embarrassing, for parents to share their finances with their children, but grown children often want to know how their parents are doing.

Where are the important documents? The five documents your children should be able to retrieve quickly are a Michigan Will (and Trust if you have one), a Michigan Durable Power of Attorney, a Michigan Patient Advocate Designation, a directory of basic information, and the latest end-of-year financial statements.

The directory of information should list the assets of your estate along with account or policy numbers and contact phone numbers. It also helps to indicate your intentions for the distribution of each asset, which will help confirm you have the correct titling and beneficiary designations on every portion of your estate.  In my practice I refer to it as the Family Wealth Inventory or Asset Spreadsheet.

You may have structured your Michigan Will (or Trust) to divide your estate equally among your children. But if you have tried to make it easy for one child to access your bank accounts by adding his or her name, you have overridden your estate plan and left that child as a joint tenant.  This can be a problem.

Titling and beneficiary designations are legal estate planning actions. It’s best to review them with your legal adviser. Various types of assets are best designated differently in the estate plan. This is not the occasion for do-it-yourself thrift. It is a rare family that has compiled and reviewed a complete list of estate assets: bank accounts, investment accounts, retirement account, real estate holding, life insurance, health savings accounts and so on.

Are there any special distributions? Any promises you want kept should be documented. Your good intentions won’t matter if you aren’t around to implement them. If you have promised money to a charity and want that obligation kept, document it. If you have promised to loan a child money, document it. If you have promised to help fund your grandchildren’s college education, document that. Without documentation, none of these promises can be kept if you aren’t around to make the decisions.

Are there plans to remarry? If parents have remarried, inter-generational estate planning is even more critical. Prenuptial agreements and careful estate planning are required in the case of second marriages to avoid disinheriting children or grandchildren from the first marriage. The default is rarely a good option. I referenced this in a recent blog post that you can read here.

Do you have any prepaid funeral arrangements? Do you want to be buried or cremated? Do you have any preferences for a memorial service? Although it may seem macabre to plan your own funeral, a memorial service takes time and thought. It will be that much more special and comforting to your family when it is filled with your favorite music and readings.

Encourage your children’s interest in your estate planning.  And children encourage your parent’s interest in their own estate planning. . . you’ll be the one dealing with it. Most of the time, their intentions are honorable. They may simply want to understand your values and therefore your wishes.

Michael Lichterman is an estate planning attorney who helps families and business owners create a lasting legacy by planning for their Whole Family Wealth™.  This goes beyond merely planning for finances – it’s about who your are and what’s important to you.  He focuses on planning for  the “experienced” generation, the “sandwich generation” (caring for parents and children), doctors/physicians, nurses, lawyers, dentists, professionals with minor children, and family owned business succession – and he is privileged to do so from a Christian perspective.  He takes the “counselor” part of attorney and counselor at law very seriously, and enjoys creating life long relationships with his clients – many of which have become great friends.

Recipes and Whole Family Wealth

September 1, 2010

A little while back I posted about Whole Family Wealth™ – what it is and why I believe it is the most fulfilling way for an and individual or family to plan for their future (click here to read the post).  A good friend of mine followed up with a suggestion for an addition to Whole Family Wealth Planning – family recipes.  What a great idea!  I thought the story was so good that I ought to share it with you:

To me, one of the biggest parts of a family’s memories and traditions is Mom’s recipes. By the time kids reach adulthood, cooking has usually changed dramatically from their childhood. This is probably true for just about any generation. But most kids fondly remember the things their mothers made when they were children.

I thought about this a few years ago. My sisters and I frequently laughed and remembered some of the things our mom made when we were little. Like most people, her version of many standard recipes had little idiosyncracies, and there were some things that were not standard. Like Glowacki Chicken (Mom named a lot of recipes after the person that had given them to her). She also used to make ketchup gravy for pork chops, dandelion greens (which I still can’t stand to this day but my sisters go over once a year for dandelion green dinner) and oxtails.

So a few years ago I decided to make each of my siblings a cookbook of all of mom’s old recipes. I took her main cookbook that she’d used for decades and went through picking out the ones I wanted. For each one, I asked her if it was correct as written or if she did something different. If different, I noted it in the margin. I also asked her for recipes that I remembered but didn’t find in the cookbook so I could write those down. She actually insisted on typing them out for me – to make sure she got them right.

I made copies of all the them and put them in tabbed 3-ring binders. My sisters and brother were really surprised and happy to get it. I just wanted to make sure that when my mom passes, I could still have her biscuits and gravy if I wanted.

And it would be my guess that she and her siblings would value those recipes as much (or more) than any financial inheritance they may receive.  See, the “intangible assets” we all have are far more valuable than any financial assets, yet very few individuals and families take the time to include the values, insights, stories and experiences in their planning . . . and few professionals make it a priority or even know how to do it.

What do you think?  What “intangible” do you miss most about your parents, grandparents, friends, etc.?  What “intangible” of yours would you most want your children and grandchildren to know about and benefit from?

Contact us today to begin creating a plan based on your Whole Family Wealth™.

Michael Lichterman is an estate planning attorney who helps families and business owners create a lasting legacy by planning for their Whole Family Wealth™.  This goes beyond merely planning for finances – it’s about who your are and what’s important to you.  He focuses on planning for  the “experienced” generation, the “sandwich generation” (caring for parents and children), doctors/physicians, nurses, lawyers, dentists, professionals with minor children, and family owned business succession – and he is privileged to do so from a Christian perspective.  He takes the “counselor” part of attorney and counselor at law very seriously, and enjoys creating life long relationships with his clients – many of which have become great friends.

Truly Creating a Legacy – Story Based Planning

August 18, 2010

In this final installment on story based planning, my colleague and mentor – Scott Farnsworth – delves into the reasoning behind why story leading questions are powerful . . . and the key to a story and values based plan.  To me, these are the plans that truly create a legacy rather than just a set of documents.  To have the proper context you will want to read the previous 4 posts here: 1, 2, 3, 4.  I believe everyone needs this type of plan.  If you find yourself longing for a legacy rather than a set of documents, give us a call to schedule your Peace of Mind Planning Session.

Nancy Kline, the author of Time to Think and More Time to Think, has taught me a number of significant truths.  One is that “the human mind thinks best in the presence of a question.”

As I turned that idea over in my brain a hundred million times, I began to see that questions matter, and they matter deeply in every field of human thinking.  The nature and quality of the questions we ask determine the nature and quality of the thinking we spark and of the answers we receive.

I learned in law school that certain types of questions lead to particular kinds of answers.  For example, “open-ended questions” elicit a different kind of answers than “yes/no questions,” and these are different from “leading questions,” which guide a witness to testify a certain way.  The type of questions we ask or the way we phrase or frame our questions influences the answers we receive.

This principle is readily seen in the field of education.   As a Portuguese instructor, a college professor of business law, and now as a facilitator of professional training, I have observed that students receive, process, store, retrieve, and apply information differently according to the types of questions they are asked and, indeed, by the types of questions they anticipate they will be asked.  The learning processes and the thinking processes for one type of question are different from the learning processes and the thinking processes for all other kinds of questions.

For example, a course in which students believe they will be graded with a true-false, multiple choice, matching, or short-answer exam will produce a different kind of thinking and learning than a course in which the anticipated exam is essay, open-ended, problem-solving, or issue-spotting.  Similarly, an oral exam results in a very different educational experience than a written one.

The type and style of questions also determines the nature, quality, and quantity of information available to the teacher to assess the students’ comprehension of the subject matter and their ability to apply the material elsewhere.  Some kinds of questions deliver rich and abundant information about the student and the learning process, while others yield scant and sketchy insights.  If teachers want to understand how well their students are thinking and what they are learning, they should pay careful attention to the nature of the questions they ask.

“Successful” students — i.e. those who score well on exams — learn how to anticipate the nature of the questions they will be asked and apply the learning and testing strategies that work best for those kinds of questions.  On the other hand, “successful” students — i.e., those who learn to think clearly about the material and then put it to use in the “real world” — think beyond exam questions and anticipate the issues the “real world” will present them.

What’s true in the field of education is also true in our work with clients:  the type and style of questions we use matters deeply. Our questions determine which issues our clients think about, and then drive the way they think about, those issues.

If our questions are analytical and numbers-oriented, our clients will think analytically and will focus on the numbers.  And if our questions are more intuitive and visionary, our clients will be more reflective and more thoughtful about the future they are creating for themselves and those affected by their planning.

The best planners are comfortable working in both sides of the brain, and are skilful in getting their clients to do the same.

In her magnificent book, I Will Not Die an Unlived Life,” Dawna Markova writes:

The brain has both analytic and intuitive ways of processing information.  They are meant to work hand in hand, but usually end up in an arm wrestle.  If we analyze only as we have been taught to do in most schools, snapping at the first answer that comes along, then judging it good or bad, right or wrong, the shy intuitive mind, not unlike a prairie dog, runs for cover.  Analysis, when improperly done, causes paralysis.  It creates a world “out there,” of which we are only spectators and in which we do not live.  It is commonly called objectivity.

If, on the other hand, the analytic mind asks open questions of discernment — “I wonder how this would work. . . . What would it look like if this were really possible? . . .” the intuitive mind begins to explore many possibilities, weaving its way through the trees until it has a sense of the whole forest and its meaning in nature’s scheme of things.  Pop!

This wandering and wondering are not useful when one is dealing with issues such as the computation of income taxes.  But the exploration of purpose and passion requires us to uncover patterns and understand the relatedness between things, and then synthesize them into a new whole.  This is the terrain of intuitive processing.  Personal truth can not be found in either analytic thinking or intuitive thinking alone.  It can only be uncovered in an open inquiry between them.

Because most of us work in a presumptively analytical world, it is not always easy to inspire ourselves or our clients to operate concurrently in the intuitive world.  It sometimes feels awkward or invasive.  And yet, if we fail to go there, we are stuck in the shallow waters of “the computation of income taxes” and similar tasks, ending often in “analysis paralysis.”

So what is the secret to moving comfortably and confidently into the deep waters of real thinking about the issues that should underpin and overlay great planning?  From my three decades in the planning professions, my answer is to ask what I call “story-leading questions.”

Stories are our native language, and everyone, including our most analytical clients, has a story to tell.  Stories are a right-brain, intuitive activity that naturally invites the “wandering and wondering” and the “exploration of purpose and passion” Markova writes about.  In the hands of an artful advisor, story-leading questions and the stories they spark beckon clients (and also advisors) to “uncover patterns and understand the relatedness between things, and then synthesize them into a new whole.”

The result is a masterful, thoughtful blend of solid numbers and bottom-line analysis, together with deep, rich, and meaningful insight into the client’s purposes and passions.  The hard realities of the tax code and the stock market are woven seamlessly with the heart and soul and vision of the human beings for whom we are planning.  Literally, a new world, the future world our clients are seeking, is created.

The key to this beautiful and powerful approach to planning is the art of the story-leading question.  It unlocks the door to what I believe is the best possible planning on the planet: story-based planning.

Scott Farnsworth, J.D., CFP is an attorney and Certified Planner with more than 30 year in the estate, business, and financial planning fields. He is the CEO of SunBridge, Inc. and the founder of the SunBridge Legacy Network. He is a nationally recognized author and expert on practical, holistic, family-friendly planning. Scott was recently named one of Financial Advisor Magazine’s ‘Innovators of the Year.

Michael Lichterman is an attorney specializing in estate planning and helping families and business owners create a lasting legacy by planning for their Whole Family Wealth™.  He focuses on planning for  doctors/physicians, nurses, lawyers, dentists, professionals with minor children, family owned business succession, and the “sandwich generation” (caring for parents and children) – and does so from a Christian perspective.  He takes the “counselor” part of attorney and counselor at law very seriously, and enjoys creating life long relationships with his clients – many of which have become great friends.

The “Story Leading Question” and True Values Planning

August 15, 2010

If you haven’t had the opportunity to read the earlier posts in the series on story based planning written by my colleague and mentor, Scott Farnsworth, you can do so here, here and here (sounds funny to have all those here’s!).  They give an important backdrop to this post on “story-leading questions.”  I have found story leading questions to be one of the most transformative processes I’ve implemented when working with clients.  It “opens a door,” as Scott says, to really learning more about who each client is and what’s important to them – true Whole Family Wealth™ Planning.

In “The Power of Story-based Planning, Part 3” I wrote that “the best way to genuinely understand our clients and their values is to ask them thoughtful and insightful story-leading questions in an appropriate setting and then settle back and listen to their answers with all the love and attention and encouragement we can muster. I have learned that who they are and what they deeply value are woven into the stories they tell and can be discovered by a caring advisor.”

So what are story-leading questions?  Simply put, they are questions that invite the other person to answer with a narrative.   They open the door to a story.

I have found that good story-leading questions exhibit a warm and welcoming interest in the life of another.  Good story-leading questions are appropriate to the level of trust and intimacy between those conversing.  They don’t put the other person on the spot, nor feel judgmental.

Good story-leading questions also allow the person answering a number of ways to answer the question, rather than leaving them only one possible option.

Story-leading questions are like wizard’s matches:  they ignite a warm, crackling exchange of life-experiences and life-lessons.  Sometimes, they even kindle bonfires of story sharing.  A good story-leading question naturally and comfortably invites the other person to recall and share a little bit of their life with the person posing the question.

Most of us already have a wide array of story-leading questions that we use but most of us are not mindful of them or how powerful they can be, especially when we remember to ask them “in an appropriate setting and then settle back and listen to the answers with all the love and attention and encouragement we can muster,” to quote myself.

Here’s an experiment you can try.  When you go home this evening and when the time is right, try out this simple story-leading question with someone you love:  “So what was interesting or unusual about your day today?”

Or ask a young parent: “What has your child learned to do lately?”

Or ask a child: “What’s something you’ve discovered lately that makes you happy?”

Or ask an older person:  “What’s happening with your grandchildren?”

Or ask a friend: “What’ve you been up to since the last time we talked?”

Then listen, really listen.  Show with your countenance and your body language that you deeply want to hear the answer.  Don’t rush, don’t compete, don’t minimize or infantilize in any way what they say.  Just listen.

I promise if you do, you will discover — or rediscover — magic.

This same approach works in our professional lives.  Story-leading questions and attentive, caring listening can transform the planning process.

Our clients safeguard a treasure trove of information about themselves, their lives, their loved ones, and their visions for the future behind a heavy locked door.  Opening the door requires two sets of keys.  One set is the questions and the other is the listening.  Accessing this valuable cache of information can lead to the creation of elegant and appropriate planning for these clients.

Great story-leading questions and attentive, respectful listening are the keys.

Scott Farnsworth, J.D., CFP is an attorney and Certified Planner with more than 30 year in the estate, business, and financial planning fields. He is the CEO of SunBridge, Inc. and the founder of the SunBridge Legacy Network. He is a nationally recognized author and expert on practical, holistic, family-friendly planning. Scott was recently named one of Financial Advisor Magazine’s ‘Innovators of the Year.

Michael Lichterman is an attorney specializing in estate planning and helping families and business owners create a lasting legacy by planning for their Whole Family Wealth™.  He focuses on planning for  doctors/physicians, nurses, lawyers, dentists, professionals with minor children, family owned business succession, and the “sandwich generation” (caring for parents and children) – and does so from a Christian perspective.  He takes the “counselor” part of attorney and counselor at law very seriously, and enjoys creating life long relationships with his clients – many of which have become great friends.

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