The Virtues of Estate Planning & Estate Planners: Overview

Jun 18, 2024 | Charitable Planning, Diversity, Equity & Inclusivity, Family Law, General Estate Planning, International T&E, Podcasts, T&E Administration

“The Virtues of Estate Planning and Estate Planners,” that is the subject of today’s ACTEC Trust and Estate Talk.

“The Virtues of Estate Planning and Estate Planners is a three-part special:

Transcript/Show Notes

This is Julia Meister, ACTEC Fellow from Cincinnati, Ohio. In March 2024, ACTEC Fellow Turney Berry of Louisville, Kentucky, gave the Joseph Trachtman Memorial Lecture to a room full of ACTEC Fellows at our Annual Meeting. Turney’s thought-provoking topic asked, “If civilization depends on the orderly transition of wealth, what is meant by orderly, transmission, and wealth? What is the role and responsibility of estate planners? Are we really facilitating? And if we are, should we do it better? Civilization is waiting for the answers.”

We will be sharing the full Trachtman lecture over the next four weeks. Today, Turney joins us to explain what motivated him to present this topic and offer an overview. Turney, take it away.

Turney Berry: Thanks so much. It was a course of privilege and an  honor to be asked to deliver this lecture. And it seemed appropriate, being the 75th anniversary of ACTEC, to think a little bit with my ACTEC friends about what I value in ACTEC and what I think the broad mission of ACTEC should be. So, in thinking about that, of course, you start thinking about estate planning specifically. And I think that most of us in ACTEC would agree with my basic statement that representing rich people is not a calling, it’s not a profession, it’s just a job. If that’s what you want to do, it’s a legal job. Maybe it’s an honorable job, but it’s just a job.

Most of us in ACTEC, I think lots of other estate planners and lawyers as well, want to do more than just have a job. And when we think about estate planning, at least when I think about estate planning, I think that it is extremely fundamental to civilization itself. If we go back and think about civilization itself, the folks who do that kind of thing say it’s not very old in the big scheme. It’s 5,000, maybe a few more, years old.

Culture, of course, is older and that sort of thing. But not civilization itself. And what does it depend on? Well, one of the key things it depends on is the orderly transmission of wealth. I think we can expand wealth to make sure that we’re clear. I think of it really as heritage. It’s not just assets of stocks, bonds, real estate — that sort of thing. We think of it as wealth so much today, stuff that could go on Form 706, but it’s your traditions. It’s where you came from. It’s family heirlooms. It’s family traditions.

All of those things that make you special and make your family special. And in order to have civilization itself, you’ve got to kind of keep that going. So, when we do estate planning properly and think of it the right way, I think what we are doing is restarting civilization or continuing civilization with every client we talk with, every client we help, and every family we help. So that’s what we’re really trying to do and, that’s what we are doing when we do our jobs properly. You start thinking about what that means because you have an obligation as a citizen of humanity to try to help everybody one way or another, not just rich people.

Now we know, of course, as part of that, that most people can’t afford legal services, as many of us joke, we couldn’t afford ourselves if we had to. But that’s not quite the end of the story, we have lots of opportunities to do broader work. And that’s where ACTEC comes in. It seems to me that what ACTEC is really doing is enabling us to do more, to multiply what we do, because there’s no way that any one of us, no matter how talented or hard-working, can work toward the orderly transmission of wealth, of heritage for everybody. We just can’t do it, it takes a group.

It takes a group in a couple of particular ways. One is dealing with law reform. What’s law reform in this context? Well, it’s intestate laws, it’s beneficiary designations and how do people fill out beneficiary designations. You know, they’re a tool, but if you don’t know how to use it, it doesn’t really work.

Most people, 98% — and I don’t know if the stats are exactly right, but more or less right — if 98% of the population is going to have to do their estate planning themselves, don’t we have some obligation to make it as easy as possible and to make sure that it works as well as possible? We can’t do that by ourselves.

Furthermore, one of the things that ACTEC is doing is enabling each of us to benefit from a wider range of experience. The kind of clients that I’ve dealt with in my 37 years runs about two fingers wide. If you add in the other, say, well, estate planners in my office I practice with, maybe we have a diversity of experiences that runs four fingers wide. But my goodness, the groups and the people in just in the United States run from one side of the room to the other. So, I need to learn about and benefit from all those other experiences. They will enable me to be a better planner for all the people who walk in my door. And somebody in ACTEC needs to know really about each of those sorts of folks in order for us to make sure that we’re trying to serve everybody.

Well, that requires diversity, but a very particular kind of diversity. We need to know and to have the experiences of really everybody, of the best kind of planners who ensure that every population, every individual, is able to transmit their heritage down to the next generation. And you start thinking about that and that starts thinking about: well, where do we find those lawyers and how do we evaluate them? And all of those were things that I talked a little bit about in the lecture and more in the paper. But it affects what you do and how you think about excellence. It affects how we think about our programs. It affects how we relate to one another. Not only do we have to bring folks in, but we have to be welcoming.

My mother had a great definition of welcoming. Welcoming wasn’t just greeting somebody at the front door and saying glad you’re here, welcoming is seeing them drive up and running out to meet them and talking for a long time in the driveway while you’re helping them with their bags. That’s what we want to be in ACTEC. We want to know about each other, we want to know about our Fellows so that we really appreciate them on a human level.

So, for example, we know that all of our ACTEC Fellows are talented people. I like to start in Missouri, where you’ve got Larry Katzenstein, who has perfect pitch and conducts a St. Louis symphony once a year. David English, right down the road, has a pipe organ in his basement. Clary Redd in St. Louis is a tuck pointer and hockey fan in face paint. This morning, Bruce Stone told me that he’s on his way to learn how to become a barbecue competition judge.

ACTEC folks are fascinating people and the more we know about one another, the more welcoming we can be. And if we can be welcoming, then we can benefit from all these diverse perspectives and we can do our jobs in a far better way. That’s really what I’m trying to say, and that’s what the Trachtman Lecture is all about.

I hope you have the opportunity to listen. And I would certainly be grateful for your thoughts and comments. Thanks so much.

Julia Meister:  Thank you, Turney, for providing this overview today. We’re looking forward to hearing the entire series in four parts of the Trachtman Lecture. Please join us next week for part one. Thank you.


Additional Trachtman Lectures in the ACTEC Trust and Estate Talk series:

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