Cheese dip is cheese dip, right? Of course not. That may be the craziest thing I’ve ever written in this space.
Cheese dip was actually invented right here in Arkansas, way back in 1935. Its creator was a man named Blackie Donnely. He was a pilot, often flying a twin-engine airplane back and forth between Mexico (where legend claims he got most of his spices) and the States. He also owned Mexico Chiquito, a famous Mexican restaurant that started in Hot Springs but moved to North Little Rock shortly thereafter. Some say Donnely only “landed” in Arkansas to found his now-famous restaurant because he crashed his plane here.
One somewhat-accepted version of his closely-guarded recipe includes on its list of ingredients Velveeta cheese, jack cheese, whole milk, cilantro, jalapeños, green chilies, tomatoes, chili powder, minced onion, salt, black pepper, cumin, butter, and flour, among other things. Putting together Donnely’s version of cheese dip takes a little time. First, you have to melt the butter over low heat, slowly adding in the flour and other dry ingredients before slowly (you’ll notice a pattern) adding in the milk, before slowly including the cheeses into the mix, until it all blends together with perfection.
On the other hand, for those who don’t have time for all that, one can make another dish also called cheese dip that includes only two ingredients and far fewer steps. First you plug in your Crock-Pot, and then you pour in a can or two of RoTel, before finally tossing in a block of Velveeta cheese. Done.
No one would correct you if you were to label both of these dishes cheese dip. And don’t get me wrong; I love them both. But no one would seriously argue that all cheese dips are created equal. So what accounts for the difference? One major factor is the list of ingredients. Another is the time and effort put in by the cook.
The same distinction holds true in my field of estate planning. All estate plans are not created equal, and the distinguishing factors are no different from cheese dip. Some estate plans include a long list of ingredients; others are pretty simple. Some estate plans take a lot of time and tremendous effort; others can be put together pretty quickly.
The desire of most people is to have an estate plan that, despite (or even because of) its simplicity, still meets all of the family’s goals. Just as every cheese dip recipe includes, at a minimum, some kind of cheese and some kind of spice, every estate plan must have certain essential ingredients.
No estate plan is complete if it does not contain some means of transferring assets from one generation to the next at the time of death. But there are many ways to accomplish that task, including wills, trusts, specialized deeds, and death beneficiary designations on financial accounts. A good estate planning discussion will leave you with at least a basic understanding of the difference between these options, and again, will keep things simple while ensuring all of a family’s goals are met.
No estate plan is complete if it does not also contain some means of giving authority to another person, or a group of people, to help with business and financial affairs when age, illness, or injury create a need for assistance. This is usually accomplished with power of attorney and healthcare power of attorney documents.
A good estate planning attorney will help a family identify its goals and will present multiple options for meeting those goals. That attorney will not over-complicate matters, but he or she will not oversimplify the situation either. Estate planning is a big deal. Your family’s future can ride on the success or failure of your plan. Sometimes it’s not enough to just plug in the Crock-Pot. Never is it enough to just print some forms off the Internet.
When it comes to estate planning, some situations call for a little more nuance, a little more creativity, or a little more time. Others don’t. But realize that it takes a lot of skill and a lot of experience to make a potentially complicated project feel simple. It takes effort to find the right balance.