What are the skills needed to work with people as they plan for the ultimate disposition of their assets? What counts as success in such an encounter? Can it be about more than wealth transfer and tax reduction? Should we include on the estate planning team "coaches" who are trained in the humanities to make the estate planning process a humane and liberating experience?
With Active Citizen Susan Paddon's permission, here is the gist of an email in which she discusses a "truly transformative time" with her 82 year old mother who is leaving her home of 43 years to move in with a family member. Of each cherished object, full of memories, so many beautiful things, the daughter must ask, if it should be kept, sold, or given away, and to whom. "These things are me," the mother says.
As we went through her accumulated possessions of so many years, she turned her attention to valuing inner Beauty, relationships with herself and others over the art and antiques she thought previously she couldn't live without. She has always feared change, but as we processed deciding what to sell, what to keep, what to save for family and what to give away, she became much more open and flexible, and we really fell in love with one another all over again.
How much more humane was this conversation between mother and daughter than the facts and figures, tax citations of the standard estate planning process.
Estate planning is so much more than making the numbers come out right. It is a powerful moment of transition, in which one can do a life review, examine the meaning of life and one's place in it. Mom was finally able to choose what is deep in her own heart, a type of choice she had never allowed herself to have before. In some cases this came as she unearthed forgotten items of great financial value that had never been used or even displayed to be enjoyed. She realized how she had often deprived herself of receiving what was already in her possession. She connected that with her trouble letting others love her. She decided to change that, step out of a self-imposed isolation, and become part of the world again. She's afraid, but watching the auctioneer walk out of the house with some things, she was amazed at the sense of relief she felt. (And she loved the check she got after the first auction--she'd always wanted to work and have an antique store, but had never manifested that.)
So I lived out, in this very personal case, your idea of having coaches really help people think about deeper issues while estate planning. I know I got as much or more out of it than she did, because it was a healing
experience for me as well.
Today we know in marketing that products and services are more than commodities. They are experiences, positive or negative. Estate planning is often a great missed opportunity, for those who market the process and those who endure it. "Final things," and the "ending end of all" are the prime subject of poetry and religion as much as law. It is shame that when we come to make our last will and testament that the discussion is dominated by lucre and law. What an unlovely end to a life.