All of us have expectations, some great and some small, some of ourselves and some of others, some we verbalize and some we leave unspoken. They are in every relationship — from professional to familial to personal to romantic. Sometimes our expectations are met, making us feel happy and contented, like we’re “on the same page”. And sometimes our expectations are not met, leaving us with a disappointed feeling in ourselves or others.
One thing that has always intrigued me about estate planning is the huge role that expectations play. There is, after all, no “test run” to see how things will play out once you’re gone or incapacitated. Of course, everyone chooses who they put in charge of their health, finances, and/or children with expectation that the person will be fair and diligent in carrying out their wishes. Some people even expect specific circumstances, such as one child needing more financial help than another, and plan their estate accordingly. Indeed, much of what is decided during estate planning is based on past expectations that were met or unmet and future expectations that the client hopes will be met. Especially in the case of trust amendments, I am reminded of the power of great expectations. Here are two specific cases that come to mind:
Years ago, an elderly woman with no children had decided to leave her estate to her five nieces. One day, she thought it would be nice to surprise each of them with a four figure gift of at least $1,000 so she wrote the five checks and put them in the mail. Two weeks went by and all the checks were cashed. One more week went by and only one niece had responded with a “thank you” phone call. Soon, another month went by and the woman had not heard a word from the other nieces. Realizing that four of her five nieces were not going to say “thank you,” the woman made arrangements to amend her trust. She left everything to the one niece who showed gratitude for her gift.
In a similar story, there was a man in his 70s who was unexpectedly hospitalized. He was pretty sick and stayed in the hospital for over four weeks. During that time, one of his children, who lived about 30 miles from the hospital, never visited him. His other children, however, drove more than 50 miles and made sure to visit him at least once a week. When the father was released from the hospital, he couldn’t wait to meet with his attorney and disinherit the son who never visited.
In these two examples the expectations seem simple—a “thank you” and a visit. But, everyone is different and we all interpret situations differently. So, what are your expectations? © 2013 by Marlene S. Cooper. All rights reserved.