September 01, 2013

Estate Planning: A Psychiatrist’s Guide to Succession Planning

Mark Heitner

The struggle to bequeath a family business to a relative is the stuff of history, and many family business owners know the agony of King Lear all too well. You likely will never have a client who wishes to pass his kingdom from one generation to the next, but the succession of a modern-day business presents its own set of challenges. Family problems can delay a legal consultation and often frustrate the planning process.

Could a lawyer have saved King Lear? Getting his ear would have been the first step. Court jesters did this with sly-witted punditry. Today, psychiatrists do this by asking exploratory questions, and lawyers can adopt this strategy. Candid questions cause family dynamics to be divulged.

Perhaps the most important question an attorney can ask is, “Why have you made the appointment today?” The issues that retard estate and succession planning may have been present for decades. Some event has overcome inertia. What is it? The client’s answer to this question cre-ates the emotional context for the ensuing discussion and kindles the development of the client’s trust in the attorney.

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