Finding a Straight Shooter

A family member recently passed away. He had an estate plan, but no life insurance. Of the many lessons from this experience, including the obvious lack of life insurance, let’s choose one: Communication.

We (the heirs) met with the estate attorney, whom we’d never met as we live in other states, but who did the estate plans for several family members (including two physicians and a sales rep). The meeting briefly covered transfer of assets and a mention of an estate tax payable to the home state of the decedent. The attorney said he’d send us a reminder about paying the estate tax. Well, he forgot. After one of us inquired, he sent a hasty note about getting him the checks (these are for around $10,000 each) in a week so he can submit the payment to the state’s department of revenue. Can you write a $10,000 check today? Apparently it’s nothing to him. He sent a basis for the tax calculation that included hand written scribble for $2700 in fees. When asked what these were, he said to disregard trivial fees for now. He gave ambiguous answers to questions so we couldn’t replace our ignorance with knowledge and facts; that way he could find more ways to charge us. You get the picture. Because we lived in other states, he saw no future business in us so he figured he could at least milk us for “trivial” actions. Oh, and to us, $2700 isn’t trivial.  We bet you’d agree!

Communication Lesson 1 – After establishing your estate plan, learn the details of implementing it and pass that information on to those who need to know.  If our beloved family member had informed us of the estate transfer process and associated fees up front, we wouldn’t have to put up with this nonsense from an arrogant attorney that we did not choose.

Communication Lesson 2 – Choose professionals who talk straight with you, and are willing to help you learn to do simple things on your own, if you would like that. Avoid professionals who prey on your ignorance of their field, thereby creating a false sense of dependency and even a false sense of respect.

Communication Lesson 3 – Referrals are powerful, either good or bad.  Perhaps this attorney was good at estate plans; afterall, with one intrafamily referral he did several estate plans, raking in tens of thousands of dollars in the process.  But his true colors shone when he knew there were no more big dollars to make off this family.  So, give referrals with specific experience.  When asking for referrals, be specific.  Joe Pro might be good at “service A,” but he might not have the integrity or heart to look beyond the immediate fee for “service A.” 

Although it seems obvious, everyone needs to be deliberate in finding a straight shooter.  We pledge to shoot straight with you regarding life, health, disability, individual and group insurance!