Blog

Learning what you don’t know

Like most things in life preparing wills and trusts is something you can not learn in one day. In fact, you can’t learn it in one year.  I was reminded of this last week at a continuing education seminar I attended. I have been doing this type of work since 1994 and, in fact, been practicing exclusively in this area of law for the majority of the time. However, I still learn new things! I go to continuing education to learn about the latest laws, the latest ideas, but also to go a level deeper in my knowledge. I want to dissect detailed areas of the law and understand them!

Each time I go to a new deeper level I realize how unfair it is, to you the general public, for attorneys to dabble in an area of law. Wills and trusts looks so easy on the surface level but it is so deep and involved and so easy to mess up! The problem is the attorneys that dabble just don’t know what they don’t know. They, in fact, have no clue what they don’t know!

Sure there are in-depth classes they can take, books they can read, and some of them do all that.  A few new estate planning attorneys, like I did in about 1995 or 1996, will go to Wisconsin for a week of intense estate planning training through ALI-ABA which presents an incredible estate planning boot camp at the University of Wisconsin. It rotates each year; one year beginning, the next intermediate and the last advanced.  I went to a beginning year as that was the level of my knowledge back then. Hopefully one of these years I can go back for the advanced course of study because though I could teach most of the classes being offered I also know I will learn something if I do!

Unfortunately, most attorneys that dabble in wills and trusts do not go to many, if any, estate planning classes. They think they have some good forms and they “have the practice guides” if a tough problem presents itself. The problem is they do not know what a tough problem is since they don’t know what they don’t know!

Let me be clear this is NOT about how much money a client has. Certainly larger estates offer complexities but a lot of modest, and even small, estates create much more difficulty. Some small cases really require the knowledge of an advanced estate planning attorney.  Unfortunately many clients don’t know what they don’t know and they assume their case is easy.

The bottom line is hire an attorney with vast experience in estate planning. Do not hire an attorney who dabbles in estate planning just because you know him or he is giving you a good deal. Hire a trained professional!

-John