Asset Protection Planning-the Client’s Mental State

This blog site focuses primarily on sophisticated issues in the asset protection arena. I address new developments, strategies and legal issues. However, I have never used this blog to discuss the fear, anxiety and depression that many new clients exhibit when I first meet them and how attorneys should deal with this.

We see persons who perceive, rightly or wrongly, that their financial world is collapsing around them. They fear bankruptcy, loss of reputation, inability to provide for their families and some even believe they will go to jail for failure to pay their debts. As a Michigan asset protection attorney who devotes a substantial amount of time in this arena, I can unequivocally state that dealing with these human issues is at least as important, if not more important, as focusing on potential asset protection strategies. While I am not a mental health professional and have no formal training in this area, an experienced attorney can be effective when confronted with this situation.

Attorneys often meet with persons who are stressed out for one reason or another. They may be accident victims, or in the midst of a divorce or they are being sued by their business partner. Inevitably they will be emotionally affected by their circumstances. When we meet with such people we must carefully listen to their words and closely observe their body language. What I try to do is alleviate the fear and anxiety associated with the unknown. Frequently, the client has envisioned a situation far worse than it actually is. They do not believe that there may actually be a favorable solution available or that they won’t lose everything.

Educating the client on the law and describing what is likely to happen as creditors proceed to enforce their claims and ultimately seek to collect on judgments establishes a framework which is quite different and frequently less daunting from what the client has envisioned. As I analyze the client’s situation I can usually tell the client that things aren’t as bad as the client believes them to be. I explain how certain assets cannot be accessed by creditors and are safe. Where applicable I discuss the positive aspects of bankruptcy and how the client might get a fresh start. I often include stories of other clients who were in a worse situation but have been able to turn things around and their lives are much better today. And perhaps most importantly, when I see a client who is severely depressed I strongly encourage the client to seek professional help. Indeed I will often tell the client that we should defer further discussion until the client has initiated meeting with a health professional.

What attorneys need to realize is that on the broadest level we are here to help the client. In some cases our areas of expertise must take a secondary role to the client’s mental health needs. We must be careful to park our egos at the conference room door and always think client first.