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Seeing The Client As A Whole

Q. I own a business and also have personal assets. I do not have my legal affairs in order in case of incapacity or death and would like to schedule an appointment with an attorney to do. Should I meet with a business attorney or an estate planning attorney – or both?

A. Studies show that only 40% of adults (anyone over the age of 18 years) in the United States have planned for the inevitable – death – or incapacity. The families of the 60% of adults who have done no planning will have a more complex, expensive, and time-consuming road to travel to deal with the issues they face due to a negative life event.

People usually wait until there is a legal crisis to meet with an attorney. This is the worst time to meet with an attorney as, by that time, it is too late to plan and the situation is urgent – usually with fewer options and less time available to decide. The better path is to meet with an attorney prior to the needs posed by exigent circumstances.

Attorneys should view their clients much as physicians view their patients – as a whole person (or, in case of the law, entity.) When clients meet with me to discuss estate planning options, I specifically ask them about their family situations and business operations as these factors must be considered to accomplish a holistic and complete plan. An individual who plans his or her personal affairs but makes no plans for business operations leaves those business assets and issues unresolved. The same is true for a business owner who makes succession plans – especially, if not implemented – and then fails to arrange personal and non-business matters.

I recommend that you schedule an appointment with an estate planning attorney who is also experienced in business law, so all of your concerns will be addressed. However, if you decide to meet with separate attorneys (estate planning, business, etc.), be sure to notify the varied attorneys of your other activities so everything will be coordinated and organized.

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