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Honesty is the Best Policy

By February 11, 2020Family Business Law

Emens Wolper Jacobs & Jasin Law Firm
By: Heidi R. Kemp

Recently, I had the unfortunate opportunity to watch my niece’s varsity basketball team lose their first game after starting the season 21-0. The girls on the team are very young and my heart broke for them as the final minute waned and their faces started to reflect the inevitable. I remember that gut-wrenching feeling in the pit of your stomach once realization set in that you couldn’t do anything to change the outcome. Losing is inevitable. In life, we cannot always control all of the variables around us. Sometimes, things just don’t go right. We can only do our best and then deal with the situations in the best way possible. The legendary football coach, Urban Meyer, often talked about The Success Equation: Event + Response = Outcome. You can’t control the event so you have to focus on the response part of the equation in order to produce a positive outcome.

Watching someone you love dealing with a loss or heartbreak or any kind of struggle is immensely difficult. Our natural reaction is to try to protect them. But, experiencing life, even at that young age, is hugely important for personal growth. Everyone has to take responsibility for their own actions and responses. And, I think the hardest thing for a parent to deal with is when the child’s reactions are not healthy for them. The parent seems to feel a sense of shame or failure or embarrassment. I can appreciate where these feelings come from. However, it is extremely important that you do not hide those things from your estate planning attorney.

Part of the estate planning process is determining the best course of action for your assets when you pass away. I can’t tell you how many times people have said “I don’t want to air my dirty laundry” or were extremely hesitant to state the reality of their family situation. If a child has some sort of addiction, tell the attorney. If a child is financially irresponsible, tell the attorney. If a child is in a marriage where you do not have a good relationship with the spouse, tell the attorney. If a child has special needs, tell the attorney. If siblings do not get along, tell the attorney. I could go on and on about these types of things.

Being honest with yourself and with your estate planning attorney is critical. There is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. I can almost guarantee you the attorney has heard a similar (or even worse) story before. One of the main points to the estate planning process is to plan for the situations listed previously. All of those scenarios can be properly planned for if the attorney knows the extent of the situation. If you hide it or downplay it, it’s very possible that the final plan will not accomplish your ultimate goals.

One of the areas where this same line of thinking can come into play is business succession planning. Parents may not be dealing with addiction or financially irresponsible children in this scenario (although they certainly could be). But, it’s often more associated with certain children working in the business and others not working in the family business. Again, this is a time to be overly honest with yourself to determine the right course of action. Equal is not always fair and fair is not always equal.

Remember that only you can control how you respond to certain events. If you truly want to protect and help your children (or grandchildren), honesty is the best policy to achieve the desired outcome.