I’ve heard many attorneys say, clients don’t know how to tell if a trust has the best, most cutting edge tax language in it, but they know if their kid’s birthday is wrong in it. And since it's hard for people to know if a trust is a “good one” or a “cheap one” because they can’t test drive it, the small details can increase or decrease the level of trust your clients have in your work.
It’s like that old Cosby Show episode where Vanessa, unannounced and with an attitude, brings home her boyfriend to meet the family. The boyfriend actually seems to be an OK guy, but the way she presents him to the family is horrible. I always remember the line Bill Cosby used to sum up what didn’t work. “It’s like you cooked a gourmet meal of steak and served it to me on a dirty garbage can lid.”
So many times I see documents “served up” this way. Attorneys spend countless hours and dollars learning the best planning strategies for clients, but the presentation of the documents undermines that. So, below are some tips to increase the professionalism of the document’s appearance to clients Let’s get a checklist in place right now to make sure your documents aren’t only the best from a legal perspective but from a visual presentation perspective as well!
Once you decide how you want each item below handled in your firm, make sure you type up the answers and place them in your Drafting System Manual. The key isn’t really which is a better option but to be consistent with your preferences throughout all your documents. Oh yeah, make sure you share it with your paralegal as well!
(For the attorneys we support with drafting, we discuss each of these items during the Drafting Setup call and note how each should be handled for consistent and professional documents.)
Top 10 Drafting Clean-Ups
1. Identify how to list each person's named in the document. Don’t list the child’s name as Robert John Sample when listing him as a beneficiary, then refer to him as Robert J. Sample when listing him as a successor Trustee. It's a little thing but it looks sloppy. This happens most often when you have a document you draft outside of your main document drafting program and the name gets entered differently there.
2. Decide if you are entering names in ALL CAPS or in regular type. Do so consistently throughout the document.
3. Decide if your firm uses the full name of a state or the two-letter abbreviation for address purposes.
4. Decide if you want street names abbreviated or spelled out fully. For example, if a client lives on Main Street, do you prefer that to be entered as Main St. or Main Street? If you don’t have a preference, pick one and do it consistently. The key is to make sure it’s the same throughout the document.
5. What is your format for listing phone numbers? 813-841-5705 or (813) 841-5705. Again, decide then be consistent.
6. Make sure the format of your firm's address is consistent throughout all documents.
7. Are you capitalizing the word Trustee and Trust everywhere in the document or not?
8. Are you referring to co-Trustee in this format or Co-Trustee (or Cotrustee or CoTrustee?) See how quickly things can get out of control?
9. How are you listing dates? In number format (1/5/14) or January 5, 2014? Are you abbreviating the month? Are you using a 2-digit or 4-digit year?
10. Do you always want your notary block on the same page as the signatures?
I hope these simple clean-ups will help you be more confident that the document you are presenting to clients looks as impressive as it really is. Implementing these clean-up tips will also save you and your paralegal a lot of time revising documents to fix these little annoying inconsistencies.
If you desire a drafting system to produce documents that always follow your preferences but don’t have the time or the team to create one, talk to us about our drafting support. Our team of drafters has years of experience preparing estate planning documents and is already trained in all the major drafting programs.
Committed to your success,
Photo credit to FreeDigitalPhotos.net