Case Study

*Length and number of sessions vary depending on the individual needs of each client. The fee for services is assessed on an hourly basis.


In 2004, Mr. and Mrs. Smith contacted me to help them think through distributing their art, furniture, books, and the other treasured items they wanted to pass along to their children.  They had already visited with a financial planner and an estate attorney, yet they were still struggling with some aspects of their planning. 

What they wanted was twofold:

  1. Support discerning what to do with their more personal assets – the things of emotional value unaddressed by an estate planner, and
  2. A safe place to talk and think through how to divide their estate due to diverse financial situations as well as relational issues among their children. The Smiths were at a standstill in their estate planning, unsure of  how to proceed.  

The first session lasted about three and a half hours.

Goals discussedJoanie Harris - Legacy Consulting

The Smiths had three children: a son who was married and financially secure, a daughter who was married and working as a social worker, and a single son who was financially independent and pursuing a career. The Smiths shared several concerns:

  • They wanted to be fair to their children;
  • They were concerned their daughter could not afford her own home;
  • They were unsure what to do with their art collection
  • They didn’t want to burden their children with items the children didn’t want.

The Smiths wanted to explore their options and develop a plan to leave their personal possessions to their children. They also wanted to discuss how to be fair, and at the same time help their daughter one day buy a home of her own.

Potential beneficiaries considered

I talked with the Smiths about the people closest to them. After some discussion they were able to specify certain loved ones to receive their personal treasures. Situational differences amongst potential beneficiaries were discussed, and the Smith’s aired their hopes and desires concerning their possessions and their loved ones. With time and reflection, the Smiths were able to clearly identify their list of beneficiaries, which included their children, grandchildren, a few close family friends and a favorite non-profit organization.

Assets identified

Upon further conversation, several things became apparent — some of monetary importance, and others bearing emotional weight. There was an old coin collection of museum quality, a pottery collection, several pieces of fine art, some watercolors painted by Mrs. Smith, and an arrowhead collection amassed over the years by Mr. Smith. The parents were concerned the children would be uninterested in some of these treasures, leaving them uncertain how to proceed with planning.

Potential solutions and situations-to-be-considered 

As they talked about their lives, possessions, and goals, potential solutions rose to the surface as did unanticipated situations that needed to be considered.  In one instance, the Smiths questioned whether they should eventually enter a retirement center despite their strong desire to remain in their home long term.  I was able to help them come up with new and creative ideas, including an unconventional option to address two of the Smith’s concerns. Perhaps the Smith’s two-story home could be converted into two separate apartments.  In such a scenario, the daughter and her family could use the upper level, with the Smith’s using the lower level. The Smiths loved the possibility of remaining in their home with family close by to support their needs as they grew older.  They also felt this was a viable option to support their daughter in having a home of her own, with the daughter ultimately receiving the entire home as a gift in exchange for the care she would provide in the Smith’s later years.

This and other options needed to be discussed with an attorney and tax planner. I also urged the Smiths to talk with their children to gauge their feelings about living arrangements, certain artwork, and the parents’ personal collections. The Smiths left the session with a list of options and resources to consult. They also knew which issues to clarify in conversations with individual children, aiming to prevent friction among the children at a later date. 

In the next session with the Smiths (six months later)

After talking with their estate attorney, CPA, and children, the Smiths had a more concrete plan of what they wanted to do and were even beginning to make arrangements. We discussed what transpired over the past six months and what directions they had chosen  after talking with all of the above. They remained undecided on a few items; and it was agreed that those issues would be addressed in six months, once other plans had been finalized.

(Other issues often encountered in Legacy Counseling are those that that come with blended families or families where one or more of the beneficiaries are estranged or struggling with addictions. And sometimes people just need support and a place to think through and put into words ideas and plans that are emotionally hard for them to think about.)

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