By: Stephen R. Elville, J.D., LL.M. – Managing Principal and Lead Attorney –
Elville and Associates, P.C.
Lately I’ve been thinking about the theme Elville and Associates has been talking to clients about so much since late 2022 and now into 2023, and that is achieving perfection in estate planning. While this concept is important, and an idea that sets the bar higher than it’s likely ever been set before, it’s important to also understand that the object is not to focus on perfection at the outset – meaning perfectionism is not what I am referring to. This problem is what holds so many people back, and not just in estate planning. Many of us won’t move ahead with something unless we know it’s perfect or otherwise we are afraid we will make a mistake; or, we actually do get started with a project and then don’t finish for various reasons, oftentimes because we want to be perfect or we lack focus; or, perhaps something we don’t want to admit – we are afraid to finish because we’re afraid of what finishing means.
For example, in the past two years I’ve had clients who have attempted estate planning multiple times in the past and did not or could not follow through. The problem is this: when we think about estate planning, we think in terms of having to get it right and having to get it right from the get-go. We don’t give ourselves permission to fail. Why? Well, because we think in terms of failure not being an option. But that’s not how estate planning works and not how everyday life works. In estate planning we feel that we must make perfect choices because we have no alternative – we have to plan as if death or incapacity would occur or could occur tomorrow. While this is always true, and no one knows what tomorrow may bring, this approach is fatal to success in estate planning.
Rather, the best choice and the healthy choice when it comes to estate planning is to engage in an estate planning process where there is counseling and education so that you know all of the choices that are available to you, and in that estate planning process you obtain advice about what choices may be best for you based on your own individual circumstances and family situation. As part of this estate planning process, you have a goal or develop a goal that drives your planning forward. You make the best choices you can now, not only about how the structure of the plan works, but also who your trusted fiduciaries will be, namely, your personal representatives under your last will and testament, your guardians for minor or disabled children, your trustees, your agents under financial powers of attorney and advance medical directives, your trust protectors, and more.
Having made these decisions, you eventually realize that estate planning is not just a single transaction, but a process – a lifetime process. You eventually realize that just like financial or tax planning, or other life planning, including healthcare, fitness, or education, you don’t just set it and forget it. You work on and develop your planning throughout your lifetime. When you realize this and have this estate planning epiphany, you will realize that you do not need to feel under pressure about being perfect in estate planning from the outset, and this releases you to make the highest and best decisions based on what you know now. You can then maintain and update your estate plan throughout your lifetime, and in this way you then take the real steps towards the perfection of your estate plan as an overall goal so that when your estate plan matures and you are no longer living, it will work the way you envisioned.
Here’s the point: we want to encourage and strive for perfection in estate planning. But perfection usually does not come in one sitting or one meeting or one phase of a process (or in one workout, one piano lesson, or one audition). Rather, perfection in an estate planning process happens as part of an overall commitment to excellence in planning throughout your lifetime and continuing legal education for yourself, your family members, and your trusted fiduciaries. Don’t try to be perfect. Instead, achieve perfection in your estate planning, elder care planning, or special needs planning, over your lifetime, taking into consideration all of the changes that have, and will surely continue to occur, in the coming years. Just do your estate planning and don’t worry about being perfect.
Managing Principal and Lead Attorney Stephen Elville’s work is centered in “estate planning, elder law, and special needs planning with special emphasis in the areas of tax planning and asset protection. As a member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners, the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, and the National Network of Estate Planning Attorneys, he works to bring peace of mind to clients by creating solutions to their needs through counseling and education using the very best legal-technical knowledge available. He is a seasoned speaker and each year presents at dozens of webinars, workshops, conferences, and continuing education events. Steve has also been named to the Maryland Super Lawyers list eight times, including the past seven consecutive years. Steve is also the founder and president of the firm’s charitable organization, the Elville Center for the Creative Arts, in 2014, a 501(c) (3) organization that partners with school music programs and other organizations such as the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra to give the gift of music to children who want to participate in music but don’t have the means to do so on their own. Steve may be reached at email@example.com, or by phone at 443-393-7696 x108.