Good Intentions


My high school football coach always liked to say: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” This is an old saying and its origins are disputed. But, the meaning is clear - whether due to procrastination, laziness, or otherwise, the best of intentions are meaningless if we fail to follow through on those intentions. As I meet with families after the death of a loved one and explain to them what will happen based upon the deceased’s estate plan or lack of a plan I occasionally hear – “Dad intended [fill in the blank]” or “Mom always said it would be [fill in the blank].” Fortunately or unfortunately, the law only looks at what a person actually did – not what they may (or may not) have intended. If you created a will or a trust, the terms of that document are going to guide us in the administration of your estate. If you did not create an estate plan, state law will determine what happens. If you updated beneficiary designations they will be honored. If you failed to update them – that will also be honored.I recently read an article in the Wall Street Journal about the estate of author Tom Clancy. His widow has been embroiled in a dispute with his children over whether she should have to pay a portion of the estate taxes that are due. The children tried to argue that Clancy “intended” that they each pay their share. The court said the best evidence was what was actually in the document and found that she did not have to pay. What were Clancy’s intentions? It is hard to know for sure, but the wishes he left are what mattered. It is important to have the proper documents in place and it is important that those documents be clear and accurate.In a continuing education class I attended, John Baker of Iowa State University said it succinctly - thinking about planning is not planning, talking about planning is not planning, delaying planning is not planning – successful planning REQUIRES carving out time to plan, successful planning REQUIRES decisions, successful planning REQUIRES implementation.I love the quote by the great Jesse Owens: "We all have dreams, in order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline and effort.”