I have been reading in the last few weeks about the recent passing of Muhammad Ali and his legacy of civil rights and his physical prowess in the boxing ring. Like so many I had never looked deeper than the legend but when I did I was surprised to discover that his legacy to his family is bitterness and divisiveness.
Ali had 4 wives, 9 children, 2 of whom were from relationships outside marriage. His last wife Lonnie has functional control of his estate whilst some of his children (including Muhammad Ali Jr) live in unemployment and poverty. It is almost certain that there will be a bitter and protracted legal battle over Ali’s $97 million estate.
I am not going to tarnish the memory of the great man by delving further into his problems but it does make me reflect on the errors I have made professionally by assuming that my clients have their estate planning and family affairs in order.
Recently I have lost one of my favourite and longest serving clients, a beautiful elderly lady who has been nothing but a blessing to those around her and a joy to serve. Working with her late husband and her and the Estate Planning For Life system we prepared two documents for the family, an Information That Matters record and a Crisis Management Plan.
Simply having the information is not enough, as advisers we must provide guidance and support during a period when grief can overwhelm our intellect. We can act in an ad hoc way or as professional advisers we can be prepared with a written plan of action that ensures critical issues are addressed promptly and documentation is available.
In the case of Muhammad Ali there was a need to work through the human side of his family problems. While it is still physically possible the adviser should work with the clients to identify:
1. Human, financial and intellectual capital and liabilities
2. Their estate planning goals,
3. Key personal and business relationships,
4. Family and external/business risks
5. Obligations and legacy issues
Co-operation between the advice disciplines is necessary to solve complex problems that come with complex people. In this modern world virtually all clients have sufficient complexity and an estate of sufficient size that they have a hunger for an estate planning discussion. In my experience the higher net wealth clients and professional families have just as much, if not greater, familial complexity than my other clients and are grateful for the subject being discussed.
From the passing of Ali I took many things, not the least is an increase in my resolve to understand every one of my clients at a human level and help to solve their human problems.
Good advice puts people first.