Never have so many had so much. A recent study by TNS, a British consulting group , estimated there were 8.9 million American households with a net worth of at least $1 million, excluding the value of their primary home. 

    Think about it. Millions of millionaires.

    That’s a long way from “ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” It also implies that lots of us are facing an issue rare in human history: What do we do with all the assets we leave behind?  How do we prepare our spouses, children, and grandchildren?

    To find out, I asked Don Malouf, Dallas estate planning attorney  extraordinaire. The co-author of ten volumes on estate and tax planning, he doesn’t do what many estate attorneys do--- try to amaze you with the number of unexpected permutations of death and distribution  that could occur within your very own family.

    Instead, he goes to the heart of the matter.  “An estate plan is the easy part. Sadly, plans are frequently motivated by the wrong reason--- saving taxes--- when it is really an opportunity to do something for the family.”

    The word “opportunity” is important.

    Rather than writing a will and locking it up, not to be read, revealed, or discussed until the Prime Mover is gone and all the miscreant family members are gathered for the reading as in an Agatha Christy novel, Malouf suggests doing, talking, and relating while you are still alive. Like all opportunities, he points out, it won’t last forever.

    He suggests a “family meeting”---a gathering in which the parents or grandparents can have their attorneys explain what they are doing, how they are doing it, and why they are doing it that way.  “The most precious wealth a person has is his or her family. To abuse that wealth by not treating one’s family informatively and fairly is worse than burning money,” he said.

    He quickly points out that disclosing dollar amounts is “neither necessary nor particularly desirable.” Nor should the presentation be complicated. Instead, it should be