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Estate Planning

From transaction to relationship

By Joyce Alla

How would you like to be remembered? Will your co-workers only remember the accolades and promotions you received at work? Will your family only remember the amount of inheritance you left to your beneficiaries? Or, will loved ones recall the characteristics that made you a caring friend, a loving spouse, and a patient and present parent? 

New York Times columnist, David Brooks, (in his Ted Talk) speaks about “resume virtues versus eulogy virtues,” concluding that our relationships will be better remembered than our careers and finances.  Why then, do we spend so much time planning our estates by documenting financial assets and property, yet we give little or no time to ensure our loved ones understand who we were and what we cared about?

“The relationship with my lawyer was mostly business-like,” admits Leslie Eddy, mother of two. “And while I had a lot of questions, concerns and ideas, I became so aware of time and her billable hours that I sometimes saved too many questions for our meeting, and then walked away feeling quite overwhelmed.”

Perhaps that’s why estate planning has been transitioning in the past few years to become more about a relationship with your lawyer than about documents and transactions. Instead of charging by the hour, many law firms have decided to charge an annual retainer, so the conversation can be ongoing and more productive. In fact, a new breed of lawyers, called Personal Family Lawyers ®, prioritizes the relationship with the client above all else. There are currently over 150 recognized Personal Family Lawyers ®, and they believe they represent a new trend in estate planning.

“A true legacy goes way beyond traditional estate planning documents”

“A true legacy goes way beyond traditional estate planning documents,” admits David Feakes, owner and founder of The Parents Estate Planning Law Firm, PC in Acton, Massachusetts. “We all have critically important things we want to pass down to our children – hopes, dreams, memories, stories and even guidance.” This new holistic approach to estate planning goes beyond the traditional documentation of wealth, end of life wishes, and guardianship.  “There are so many intangibles that get lost forever if we don’t take the time to record them,” he says.

Like Feakes, some law firms are now building a personal interview into the estate planning process, which gives clients the time and space to consider their own lives as well as their wishes for loved ones.  “We’ve built a structure that encourages clients to think and reflect,” he explains.  These interviews are recorded, and can cover twenty different topics, including how your children inspire you, what your religion means to you, family traditions and stories and even how you met your spouse. “This is often a joyful experience for our clients. No one likes to discuss their mortality, but these are priceless conversations often filled with laughter, fond memories and hopes for the future.”

“Without that nagging sense of concern, clients are able to live in the moment of today and be present for their families.”

By creating a legacy library, Feakes believes his clients find a sense of freedom and peace of mind.  “Without that nagging sense of concern, clients are able to live in the moment of today and be present for their families.”   And Feakes admits he gets something out of it, too.  “I’ve done these interviews hundreds of times and I never tire of it because every time I sit with a client I learn so much about them, and I reflect on my own life as well.  I learn how to be a better husband, father, son, and sibling.  I learn how similar we all are, and yet how unique.”

You certainly don’t need a law firm to record your legacy.  In fact, there are apps like Story Catcher and MemLife, but many people don’t consider recording their legacies unless they are dealing with a critical situation, like a terminal illness.

“People think they’ll deal with it as they get closer to death.  But the sad thing is, we really never know when that will be,” Feakes confirms.

There is a freedom in having long and in-depth discussions with your estate lawyer who takes all of your concerns, both personal and financial, into consideration without sending an hourly bill – taking the process from transactional to personal.

According to Feakes, facing mortality head-on, and talking with someone who truly wants to know you and the legacy you want to leave behind, will make you more proactive in your own life.


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About the Writer

Joyce Alla (Bucket age – 33) is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Parents Magazine, Family Fun Magazine, Boston Globe Magazine and other publications. Joyce has added house swapping to her bucket list; destinations include Thailand, Morocco, and Costa Rica.  She’s currently working on her first novel.  Joyce can be reached at joyce@joycealla.com.

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