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Zen and the Art of Estate Plan Maintenance

You may remember the bestseller Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance which explores many themes, including the dichotomy between the “romantic” approach to life versus the “classical” approach–in the moment versus rational analysis–and the common ground linking them. The sense of mastery and peace of mind that comes with the author’s ability to maintain his older, classic motorcycle versus his friend’s lack of interest in understanding how to maintain his expensive new one and his resulting frustration when it breaks down, forcing him to rely on professionals to repair it, are key themes.

Many of us feel the same way about technology. Technological change happens so fast that even for those who are of the “classical” approach, it is difficult to maintain mastery. And many of us of the “romantic” approach just want the thing to work, and have neither the time nor the inclination to maintain the many devices we are surrounded by, and increasingly overwhelmed with, whether it be the multitude of apps on one’s iPhone yet to be tried and applied, or the intricacies of a Smart TV. Sometimes we end up feeling anything but smart. 

When it comes to estate planning, your life situation and objectives can be uncomplicated or they can be complex, with many challenges to be met. Case in point: planning is generally straightforward for a couple with modest assets, a first marriage, children with no special needs and where all ties are domestic. But planning is another story for a couple with prior marriages, children from both the prior and the existing marriages (some of whom have special needs and will never be financially self-supporting), and where there are ties to other jurisdictions (such as U.S. citizenship), as well as high value assets located in several jurisdictions and an operating business to boot.

Yet in each situation, each client may say “keep it simple”. What they may really be saying is “I want my objectives fulfilled, but I want to understand my plan”.

And here lies the rub. Simple is not simple-minded or simplistic. In estate planning, to achieve individual objectives often means more complication and complexity in the plan, including how it is structured and documented.

It is key to ensure that each of us understands the plan and the important elements, notwithstanding often lengthy and complex provisions. Only then can it be ensured that one’s objectives and wishes are reflected.

In our view, this is best achieved in a comprehensive planning and review process, including preparing additional aids, such as flowcharts, pictorials and executive summaries of key terms.

When it comes to estate planning, it is important to find the common ground between the romantics who may not be so interested in the details but want to ensure “it works”, and the classicalists who take a keen interest in each detail and the relevant legal and tax rules and principles.

The role of the professional advisor is often to be the guide who can find the path to this common ground for each person in each individual situation. And in doing so, to ensure each client truly “owns” his or her plan. That is to have true peace of mind, which is so important in estate planning.

– Margaret O’Sullivan

Please watch for our next blog post when we discuss ‘filtering out the noise’ when preparing and making changes to your estate plan.

The comments offered in this article are meant to be general in nature, are limited to the law of Ontario, Canada, and are not intended to provide legal or tax advice on any individual situation. Before taking any action involving your individual situation, you should seek legal advice to ensure it is appropriate to your personal circumstances.