Estate Planning Attorneys Are Humans Too… Or Should Be

It’s no secret that lawyers have a reputation for being “sharky.” In fact, a lot of us came up through law school at a time when the legal field tried very hard to fight back against that stereotype — an effort that continues even now. As a result, many of today’s attorneys are actually determined for decency.

I recently came across two different articles in major publications about the undeniably human impact that estate planning attorneys can have on their clients.

First, Forbes ran an article about the shift in what today’s clients look for in an estate plan. “What [people] really worry about,” the author writes, “is how the money they leave will affect the lives of those who will inherit it.”

Then I saw a New York Times piece called “Estate Planning with the Human Element,” in which one attorney started worrying that he’d focused too much on assets during his career, and not enough on the people he’s served.

Both publications focused primarily on enormous trust funds left to kids too immature to handle their spoils. Forbes imagined a “trust-fund baby” in rehab; New York Times recounted the tale of a young woman in a casino, writing checks that her parents’ fund couldn’t cash. In both cases, the attorneys — and the parents setting up the trust — have to step back and ask whose interests are really being served.

Of course, while both these articles look narrowly at trust fund abuse, the truth is that attorneys’ ethical obligations extend to virtually every aspect of estate planning.

I remind myself every day that the work I do may very well impact whole generations of lives. That’s why personal service — attorney to client — is so important in the practice of elder and estate law.

As modern-day attorneys, we want our clients to know that we’re human. Maybe the best way to demonstrate that is for us to remember that our clients — and their beneficiaries — are real people too.