By Elizabeth Arnold
Reviewed by Jon Ford, CFP®
Elizabeth Arnold discovered her passion in the midst of extreme pain—the sudden death of her father, and the family members' disputes about "what dad really wanted." I hope our four children remember me with the obvious fondness that the author remembers her own father. Nevertheless, in the introduction Arnold writes, "If only my dad lived long enough to create the unambiguous, loving, and lasting communication he had intended—all of this conflict could have been avoided and our family could have completely focused on celebrating his life and legacy."
This is more heart wrenching because both father and daughter were practicing estate planning attorneys. A deep personal struggle resulted in "…another calling: saving families both grief and money by helping them to address the emotional dimensions often overlooked in well-intentioned, but misguided, estate plans and last wills prepared by $300-an-hour attorneys." This book is the result of Arnold's efforts to help individuals and families find greater joy and peace in this whole legacy business.
Arnold introduces readers to seven "Human Laws" that take them through a comprehensive understanding of varying perceptions of the meaning of equity, the effect of memories of love on those left behind, and communication blind spots. The book is not about tax code and necessary legal requirements, but it is obvious that they must be applied in the context of the Human Laws in order to create the good will.
The seven Human Laws are (1) Consider your values; (2) Face family dynamics: It's not just about the money; (3) Start with the small stuff, then on to the big stuff; (4) It's football, not fishing…so build a team you can trust; (5) Recognize that fair is not always equal; (6) Unleash the power of forgiveness; and (7) It's not what you say, it's how you say it…and if you bother to say it at all.
Illuminating each of these in the context of creating the good will is the author's next challenge—and she does it beautifully. Clear-thinking, comprehensive and peppered with worksheets and thought-provoking concepts, illustrations and challenges, the reader is taken on a journey to a land unfamiliar to nearly all estate planners, regardless of training or credentials. The resistance of loved ones is anticipated and Arnold provides techniques for bringing both the head and heart along for the ride.
It was difficult to read this book without thinking of clients, my wife and our children. At times I stopped to reflect and make follow-up plans while I waited for my eyes to clear after misting over. I appreciated how the author could see beyond superficial comments, and encouraged readers to also read between the lines; instead of burying the hint of dissension, she suggests how to artfully expose and manage it. She tells us how to set up "Jackal Protection," which helps prevent theft; how to build a team and decide who should quarterback the bunch; and if and how to select trustees, guardians and others. What do you do when in all of this personal interaction you make a mistake? Read the book—the author handles it superbly.
Jon Ford, CFP®, is president of CF Financial Planning Solutions Inc. in Cedar Falls, Iowa. He writes a weekly "Financial Fundamentals" column for the Cedar Falls Times.
$22.95 U.S., $32.00 Can. (hard cover, 234 pp.)