Stories at heart of estate planning

Steve Gammill
Steve Gammill

Story telling plays an important role in the estate and asset protection planning strategies I develop for clients in my law practice. Some stories immediately capture your heart and your rapt attention. Others less so. I’ve yet to hear a story yet, though, that didn’t provide insight.

It’s not really a story if it’s just a recitation of bullet points. While it’s not rocket science, story telling demands a focus on detail and a willingness to elaborate. Fortunately, most people are more than willing to focus once they get started.

As an example, you might tell me: “My father was frugal, almost to the point of being mean and stingy sometimes.” That’s a bullet point recitation of a fact, or more likely, an opinion.  I would then ask, “Tell me about an experience from your childhood that comes to mind when you say your father was pretty frugal.”

There’s nearly always a story that comes to mind. And that story, plus a few more that will just “pop” out, is exactly why the teller had formed his opinion in the first place. But the stories, the “filler” so to speak, makes the experience richer and more revealing.

Consider this story from John Warnick’s blog at “Brielle and Kyrie Jackson were born prematurely. While they had spent months together in their mother’s womb, now at birth the two tiny girls were placed in separate incubators to reduce the risk of infection. Kyrie, the larger of the two, weighed only 2 pounds, 3 ounces. She began gaining weight and strength immediately.  But Brielle struggled.  Soon her condition worsened. As Brielle’s blood oxygen level plummeted and her heart rate soared, the intensive care nurse fought to save her.  As she met with Brielle’s worried parents, she offered one final suggestion to save their daughter.  ‘Let me just try putting Brielle in with her sister to see if that helps.’ The parents consented and the nurse placed the squirming Brielle in Kyrie’s incubator. Brielle snuggled next to her sister and stopped squirming. Within minutes, her blood oxygen levels improved and her heart rate subsided. As Brielle dozed peacefully, Kyrie wrapped her tiny arm around her smaller sister.”

Had this story been told to me by the parents of the girls, I can confidently predict the afternoon session would have been filled with one story after the other, each resulting from the telling of this one story.

If my original goal was to better understand why my clients — after telling me that Brielle had married into substantial wealth while Kyrie was an administrative assistant in a small college in northern Iowa — wanted their girls to inherit equally, their stories clearly reveal the path.

The knowledge I gain from stories opens up a myriad of opportunities and options to discuss with clients. Without the stories, we can easily meet clients’ stated goals. But would we know to offer and discuss the opportunities? Would we meet the clients’ hearts?