Would you enjoy driving downtown and searching for a parking place just to spend two hours in an attorney’s office to talk about distributing your property when you die?
Well according to recent statistics, hardly anyone does. According to the AARP, not very many people make such an effort, or any effort at all towards their estate planning. More than 90% of the Americans have failed to take appropriate steps to protect themselves, their families and their property through proper estate planning.
Many experts debate the reasons that so few people do anything about estate planning. Some say its because the subject is inherently unpleasant. Others say the reason is that Americans are basically lazy and irresponsible.
Still others say that people don’t trust lawyers and the legal system. Who’s right? Probably none of these answers is completely true and correct.
However, all of these theories ignore one reason that most people fail to take action: if that action is inconvenient and a hassle, most people will delay or fail to take the action, no matter how beneficial.
Now imagine the following scenario: knowing that you want to protect your family and property, you decide to take action and investigate your estate planning options.
You decide to do some research to collect information about your options.
Instead of making an appointment to see a lawyer downtown, you turn on your television and press a button on your remote control unit.
You select a forty-five minute educational presentation on trusts, wills, powers of attorney and other estate planning arrangements. As the program proceeds, you interact with the program by clicking buttons on your remote console which apply to certain information concerning your family and property. You select the parts of the program which you are interested in and which apply to your family.
You are doing this while sitting in the comfort of your own home. If there are parts of the program you want to review, you click your remote control and it is saved for your later viewing.
After your viewing, the compact laser printer sitting next to your interactive television prints out a set of questions for you to review and discuss with your spouse. Since you both know that it is the right time to finally do something about your estate planning, you both sit down over some fresh coffee and discuss the questions.
Later you input your answers using your remote control unit back into your television. One of the questions you answer is about your choice of an estate planning attorney to assist you in implementing your choices.
Your answers and information are transmitted automatically over a completely confidential fiber optic line to a network attorney who perfectly matches with your choices and answers. You receive back biographical information about the attorney, including a multi-media presentation about the attorney, references, and testimonials from previous clients. As you find your choice to be acceptable, you are prompted on your television about billing and payment options and you click the button for the options and alternatives which are appropriate for you and your situation.
Instead of sitting in a high-rise office building where his/her law firm pays over a million dollars in year in rent, your attorney sits at his/her console computer station reviewing your information and questions in their office, or even their own home. The attorney, deciding that additional information is necessary, sends you, over the electronic network, a mail message requesting additional information to some additional questions.
Embedded in the electronic mail message–which, by the way, consists not of characters and letters on your TV screen, but of the attorney him/her self actually speaking to you– is a multi-media presentation about the type of estate plan your initial survey questions indicate you desire.
As you watch this presentation at your leisure, and at the time which is convenient for you and your spouse, in your own home, you interact with it further by clicking buttons to indicate various choices or refinements which you believe are appropriate for your own family. You ask the attorney questions to clarify your thinking on various issues. You are still sitting in your own home in front of your TV. As you ask these questions, and supply the additional information, it is transmitted automatically back to the attorney over the fiber optic network.
Even though substantial amounts of information is being sent over this network, it is completely confidential, just like one of your telephone calls is confidential. Of course, the proper authorities can still investigate suspected criminal activity. You are comfortable in knowing that your family information is and remains confidential and you are secure in being able to proceed with your estate planning in the comfort and safety of your own home.
How does this approach to estate planning sound to you? Well, its not as far-fetched as it you may think. The technology to accomplish this type of relationship with your lawyer is available today. Many attorneys are being trained now to use this technology and are installing the necessary equipment and software today. If your attorney is not part of the information age and this new technology, then that attorney will be left behind when the current archaic practice methods of today will be declared obsolete.Make sure your attorney is up on the information revolution by asking them how involved they are in installing and using the new technologies of today. This way you can make sure that attorney will be equipped to assist you tomorrow. Bernard H. Greenberg, a native of Denver, Colorado, is a lawyer in his 22th year of law practice. He is licensed to practice law in the State of Colorado, before the United States District Court for the District of Colorado, the Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit of the United States, and the United States Tax Court.