Legal and Financial Planning - How Do I Know What I Need?



Let's start with the assumption that you care about "planning," whether "legal planning" or "financial planning." Without getting lost in definitions of "planning" and distinctions between "legal" and "financial" for the moment, what aspect of planning do you care about? "Investment planning"? "Retirement Planning"? "Business planning"? "Tax planning"? What about asset protection planning, insurance planning, gift planning? Why do you care about one or more of these areas? Should you even care? For whom is all this busywork, this planning-is it for yourself, your beloved, your kids, your mom or dad?

Judging from the books available, everyone should be able to figure out what "planning" is and how to do it. A visit to Borders Books, Amazon.com, or Barnes & Nobles includes numerous titles from the joker boys behind the Motley Fool guides; the classic "Dummies" series (estate, investment, financial, or insurance planning); or the too-toothy-and-white-to-be-totally-genuine-smile Suze Orman book cycle.

What everyone walks away with from these-or even more academic or sophisticated books with topics such as hedge funds, day trading, real estate options, investments and futures, or the foreign exchange markets-is that planning is about spending money and time. It is about spending money on the purchase of specific products-annuities, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, index funds, and a host of other products. Let's not leave out insurance-Long Term Care, Whole Life, Universal Life, Term Life, Property and Casualty, Disability, Business or other types of insurance. It's about spending time reading about legal documents such as trusts (how many kinds are there?), wills, powers of attorney, college savings plans, corporations, limited liability companies, partnerships, resolutions, IRAs, pensions, special needs, tax forms and returns, leases, contracts, and a host of other instruments. It's about spending time and spending money to educate yourself about planning in one or more of these areas.

Now that you have spent time and money, you need to spend some more on a financial or insurance or banking or brokerage product? You need to spend some more on a legal, tax, or accounting service? You still need advice after reading these books?

Planning, at the end of all this reading, is educational in the sense that it is "informative." The exercise is intended to lessen mistakes when "planning" becomes "buying." Buying products or services because someone who writes a book inevitably must tell you that (a) educating yourself about services and products is good-good "planning," if you will-and, at the end of however much you read, (b) you will still need to see your "planning professional" in order to get the service or product.

So you come away from reading "planning" books with some terms, concepts, some understanding or rules of thumb that may or may not apply, success stories of folks who made the right planning decisions, tragic stories of folks who lost everything by making the wrong planning decisions-both the success and failure stories emanating from following the similar or same underlying wisdom or rule of thumb, only one person ends up fortunate, the other unlucky-and instructions to see a lawyer, CPA, broker, banker, certified financial planner, insurance professional, or ... The list goes on.

When you see the doctor-any doctor-you will begin with some minor "tests" in order to establish a "baseline." It does not matter how many times you see the doctor, you will have your height, weight, and blood pressure checked. A medical baseline is the beginning for further analysis-even analysis which may interpret that baseline differently. But at least there is a baseline.

In the planning business, there is to date no such baseline. Lots of advisors and books tell you to buy specific products or services, but based on what? Why do we need to buy a product or service? What difference does its presence or absence make to us, and on what basis? Just how do we know what we need, how much we need, and when we need it-assuming we need a product or service? And will not this provider of the service or product, at the end of the day, give me an answer that ... another provider (or even book author) will contradict?

What you need, what planners of all professional stripes require, is a baseline, a standard from which analysis can begin, even if someone takes a different position. And from that, they then delve further into figuring out what ails you, which leads to ever more sophisticated tests, which, in turn, have their own baselines upon which further analysis is ventured.

Planners have no baseline. They have no baseline, at least no baseline that crosses disciplines and which measures the effects of choices in one planning area on another.

What you need to do is to establish a baseline for your planning, one that will measure your financial and legal condition day in and day out since your position fluctuates not only as your income and assets go up and down, Doctors Financial Planning but as the larger legal and financial or economic system gyrate wildly. You need a planning anchor, something that will make sense of all that reading you do, or something that will unburden your thoughts from that nagging sense that you need to plan ... before whatever you don't want to happen comes about.


Without getting lost in definitions of "planning" and distinctions between "legal" and "financial" for the moment, what aspect of planning do you care about? What about asset protection planning, insurance planning, gift planning? A visit to Borders Books, Amazon.com, or Barnes & Nobles includes numerous titles from the joker boys behind the Motley Fool guides; the classic "Dummies" series (estate, investment, financial, or insurance planning); or the too-toothy-and-white-to-be-totally-genuine-smile Suze Orman book cycle. Buying products or services because someone who writes a book inevitably must tell you that (a) educating yourself about services and products is good-good "planning," if you will-and, at the end of however much you read, (b) you will still need to see your "planning professional" in order to get the service or product.

They have no baseline, at least no baseline that crosses disciplines and which measures the effects of choices in one planning area on another.

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