Need Help With Your Estate Plan? Go With the Flow, Advisers Say

Pay attention to these clauses to make sure you understand what you are doing, said Ivan Hernandez, a co-founder of Omnia Family Wealth. Diagraming them can be complex.

“The dream is to have everything on one page,” he said.

For that reason, some trust and estate lawyers stick to long memos to summarize estate plans and point-by-point conversations with their clients. James I. Dougherty, a partner at the law firm Withersworldwide, said that he had been sending illustrations to clients for phone conferences, but that he always came back to memos to lay everything out.

“If you have something where the parents’ estate plan overweighs a distribution of money to one child over another — say because one child got a down payment on a house — we talk about it and we put it in a memo,” he said.

But with large estates, litigation is always a concern. “Down the road, you don’t want to be on the witness stand and say, ‘The stuff in green is going to go here,’” Mr. Dougherty said. “You want to have that lengthy memo.”

You can tweak things in the chart, but your lawyer has to put the changes into your estate documents for them to be effective. (This is where the exercise differs from making adjustments to investments; your adviser can make those changes on the spot.)

At the end of the day, Mr. Hendry said, he, like any one else, just wanted the plan to work, both on paper now and in practice later.

“If I didn’t have this flowchart, I’m not sure what I would do,” he said. “I’m not going to sit down and read 500 pages of documents. By doing this, it gives my wife and me a sense of security that we have control of this situation and have it laid out as best we can.”

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