Could Flowcharts and Graphics Make Your Estate Planning Easier?


Many older people in the United States are revisiting their estate plans. Given the quarantine and the potential for illness, it is a smart time to look at these plans, and to make sure these documents cover everything necessary.

As Paul Sullivan wrote in a July 2020 New York Times article, some estate planners are changing the ways they present financial decisions to their clients.

In Sullivan’s article, he gives the example of Andrew Hendry, the general counsel for Colgate-Palmolive who lives in North Carolina. Hendry is an attorney himself. He is well-versed in the language of legal contracts. However, when he looked at his own dense, lengthy set of estate planning documents, he found his eyes glazing over.

The answer to this conundrum? His wealth adviser made a series of charts. These were color-coded flowcharts and graphics that explained the timeline laid out in Hendry’s estate plans.

Many of Hendry’s questions were answered in these initial, big-picture documents:

  • Which beneficiary received what?
  • How long was the distribution period?
  • What happens after the second parent passes away?
  • What protections (or limitations) are there in what each child can access?
  • What was the plan for the real estate?

The colorful timeline explained what was supposed to happen, and in what order. Without oversimplifying, these charts functioned as a sort of outline, and made the underlying, much more detailed legal documentation easier to digest, and easier to navigate.

How Might Such Visuals Help Your Estate Plans?

While this visual presentation is not appropriate for all estate plans, or for all estate planners, they may help for yours. Estate planning attorneys are looking into new ways that they can make legal documentation easier for their various clients to grasp.

The process of drafting estate plans is not always an easy one. It can feel macabre or even depressing to imagine your own death, or to predict what it would be like to be injured or incapacitated. Stepping through all of the possible outcomes of, say, a crippling car accident is not always a pleasant way to spend an afternoon.

On top of that, the legal documents themselves can feel cumbersome. Legal language often feels opaque. There are legal terms and case-specific examples of jargon that makes the documents themselves difficult to read. Estate planning documents can be lengthy, and full of detail. Sifting through dozens, if not hundreds, of pages can not only be laborious, but it can be tedious and confusing.

As your legal advisors, part of our job is to make these forms more palatable to you. We can walk you through the process, and take you through each of the hypothetical scenarios that might unfold in your family’s future. But we can also make the timeline of potential events be easier to digest, and easier to understand.

However, we can help you make sense of your estate plans, and the various legal documents those plans create, we are more than happy to do so. If you have any questions about those plans, or would like to revise the plans you have in place, just say the word. Our team of estate planning experts is here to assist however we can.

We hope your family is healthy and safe. We know these are challenging times. Our aim is to help you shine in these times of adversity, and to help you prepare yourself for whatever comes ahead.