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Can or Should?

  • By: Douglas G. Goldberg
  • Published: January 10, 2019
Can or Should

Remember the 1993 movie Jurassic Park? Based on the 1990 novel by Michael Crichton, it’s a fascinating look at how dinosaurs might someday be brought back to live alongside humans. While the film won twenty awards including three Academy Awards, the underlying premise has always been of interest to me. One line in particular has stuck with me for over 25 years. Dr. Ian Malcolm, played by Jeff Goldblum, said “[They] were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

Malcolm was referring to the scientists hired by billionaire philanthropist John Hammond that created the dinosaurs for the theme park. The point that Malcolm is making is that just because we can do something does not at all tell us whether we, in fact, should do something.

In the English language, CAN is used to give options or explain that you have the ability to do something, while SHOULD is used to give a personal opinion, make a suggestion or express a preference or an idea.

As we discuss various options with families in the estate and business planning process, I frequently hear different versions of the same question. Questions like “can I do a Will instead of a Trust?”, “can I do a beneficiary deed to avoid probate?” and “can I leave the life insurance to my brother in law so he can take care of my minor children?” fill much of our time together. Most times, assuming that the strategy is legal, the answer to those types of questions is “yes, you can do that.” However, the real question is, “given what we know about you, your family, your finances and the current state of the law, do you think you should do that?” That simple question opens the door for us to visit about the potential risks and benefits of each strategy and tailor make a plan that will work for each individual family.

The estate and business planning process is chock full of options. Obviously, no one option or strategy is best for all families, although that is the premise on which Legal Zoom and Rocket Lawyer are built. Actually, the process is much like going to the eye doctor. When you sit in the eye doctor’s chair and look through the stylish machine, he asks you a couple of simple questions – “What’s better for you, 1 or 2; 3 or 4?” His job is really to fine-tune the machine until you say “perfect.” That’s also our job as planners. We say things like “here’s the situation and the result of each choice. What’s better for you, option 1, or option 2?”

Taking the time to think and talk through each decision helps lead us to the best choice for each situation, given all of the variables unique to each family. Having a very deliberate process of designing your plan to fit your personal and individual needs results in Peace of Mind.

So the next time you hear someone ask whether they can do something, like cloning dinosaurs, remember the best response is probably, “Probably. But do you think you should?”