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Why I’m writing another estate planning book

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As a former estate lawyer, I have a good idea of the macro process involved in estate planning in common law jurisdictions. And as a psychotherapist, I see firsthand the ongoing struggle people face in understanding how they became the people they are, deciding what – if anything — they wish to change, and then moving forward in bringing their ideals to life, all in the context of relationships with their partner, their family and their friends.

It’s hard to know which process is more daunting.

I’ve read that Michael Jackson had a good estate plan in place but that a final step was not completed, namely the transferring of his substantial assets into the trust he’d set up. This “miss” required his estate to spend much more time and money on sorting out his estate than if this final step had been completed.

This seems, at first glance, like a technical problem, a failure by Jackson to understand the legal consequences or a mistake by his advisors to get the right papers in front of him. But was it? Or did Jackson fully understand how the complicated trust worked, but didn’t like its terms for some reason, that may have been unconscious even to him. Was there something else he wanted to do with his wealth or someone he wanted to benefit? Or was the trust plan exactly what he truly wanted, but other counterproductive thoughts held him back from completing the process.

Who knows? Even those closest to a deceased person often can’t explain what they did or didn’t do.

My point is that it is too simplistic to blame a completed or uncompleted legal process for all the estate strife and conflict that happens. An American estate mediator recently told me that the US Tax Code is always being blamed for things: she had to do it this way for tax reasons, there was just no other way.

Really?

There were no alternatives and no way to adjust elsewhere in the plan because of the tax law?

Interesting.

Or maybe the end result was exactly what the deceased wanted but she simply couldn’t bring herself to have the difficult conversation explaining her decision to benefit one person more than the others.

And that’s how it happened: when I started to look at estate planning with the perspective I’d gained being a therapist, I decided I did have more to say on the topic, and started to write another book. And in this space in the weeks ahead, I will share with you what I’m learning along the way.

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