The Sleepy Field of Estate Planning—Until Now

When people think of lawyers they usually think of the fast-paced lives of the characters in John Grisham’s legal dramas, or maybe the dramatic and exciting courtroom scenes from the movie A Few Good Men. But Estate Planning Law, unlike litigation practices, has never been like that. Estate Planning has always been a calm area of law—perhaps until now. According to this article in The Wall Street Journal’s Smart longer life spans and shifting familial roles is changing not only the face of Estate Planning, but also values and traditions going back hundreds of years.

“It’s rare that an inheritance passes from one generation to the next without leaving some scars. But smooth transitions are becoming even rarer thanks to the growing influence of a new player: the second spouse. As Americans live longer, they’re more likely to move into second marriages, and legal experts and financial planners say the resulting friction with the kids is steadily mounting. In more cases grown children are going to court against their parents even while they’re still alive, only to run up against a legal framework that leaves them with surprisingly few rights compared with their parents’ new spouses. The once-sleepy field of trust and estates law is now brimming with hardened litigators. In Texas, personal-injury lawyers in search of big paydays have begun taking on will contests. And just as court squabbles are on the rise, so are prenups and sophisticated trusts that are designed to forestall them.”

All of these changes mean that we as attorneys have a lot more to learn and anticipate, but so do our clients. The best way to keep the values of your family intact is to talk about it ahead of time and take steps to protect those values. As Chris Leyerle says at the end of the article, “You do it… out of love.”