Estate Planning Demystified: How we’re using design to create a better estate management process

Estate Planning Demystified How We're Using Design to Create a Better Estate Management Process

An estate plan is the story of someone’s legacy. But for advisors and clients alike, that story is hidden under layers of arcane legal mumbo-jumbo.

At Vanilla, we’re using visual design to cut through complicated legalese and illustrate the crucial details of estate plans. We call this simplified, diagrammed approach to estate management “estate reporting.”

Using our design studio roots to reimagine estate planning

We see many of the broken processes in estate planning as design problems. Most of our founding team have strong graphic design backgrounds, so we approach problem-solving in a more visual way. As designers, our process starts by defining the problem.

Defining the problem

Estate planning contains an entire ecosystem of opportunities that advisors can use to deepen their relationships with clients while helping them achieve financial goals. But advisors often feel reluctant to take action on estate planning beyond asking clients if they have a plan, and referring them to an attorney if they don’t. What’s getting in their way?

Through hundreds of conversations with advisors and attorneys, we’ve discovered the following:

  1. Estate planning documents are confusing and overwhelming. Written by lawyers for other legal professionals, they’re full of unfamiliar terminology and legal jargon that can perplex the layperson.

  2. Most advisors can’t translate legal documents into plain English. Advisors can confidently explain how investment decisions might impact clients’ financial goals, but they can’t look at an estate planning document and interpret how its language may impact client goals after death.

  3. Estate planning is a touchy subject. Advisors feel uncomfortable talking with clients about the “big picture” meaning of their estate plans. Who gets what after the client dies is a sensitive topic. What’s more, most advisors don’t feel knowledgeable enough to answer client questions, and they aren’t qualified to give legal advice.

  4. There are high stakes involved. When clients’ documents are outdated or poorly written, disastrous consequences for their families can result. All the smart financial management an advisor provided in a client’s lifetime can fall to ruin upon the client’s death.

The design challenge is clear: How do we help advisors and their clients better understand estate plans?

Our solution: Estate reporting

The Vanilla system, using estate planning documents entered by the client or advisor, produces a beautifully designed visual representation of the big picture of an estate plan. Using the estate report, the advisor can walk the client through each element of their plan and share how it affects their goals. The client can literally see who will get what after they die.

You can view select images of a sample estate report below or download a complete sample here.

estate planning sample report - fiduciaries

Estate reporting is in no way a replacement for working with an attorney to create or update estate planning documents, but it can help clients understand how their current estate plan will play out upon their death or incapacitation. If what they see doesn’t reflect their goals or desires, they can consult an attorney to ensure that their estate plan better meets their needs. If you want to learn more about how Vanilla works, get in touch.

Let’s take a look at the approach we take to estate reporting.

Cutting through legalese to highlight what matters

Vanilla distills, from documents written in dense legal jargon, the elements that are most crucial for clients to understand.

We see an estate plan as a story that a person seeks to tell about their legacy. Attorneys, however, craft estate planning documents for the eyes of the law, rather than the reading ease of their clients. For the average person, reading estate documents can prove to be a mind-numbing experience.

To make things more digestible for advisors and clients, we take away what’s unnecessary (i.e., most legal jargon) until only what’s essential remains.

Using simple, friendly language, we summarize what documents mean and why they’re important.

estate document checklist
By understanding which documents are missing, you can help your clients avoid common estate planning mistakes.

Documents that users create in Vanilla provide easy-to-understand guidance for each decision point, and live support is available should questions arise.

Communicating complex ideas with diagrams

Since we’re approaching each estate plan as a story, it makes sense that we illustrate the story. We use graphs and charts to simplify the most complicated concepts.

A single diagram can easily communicate a scenario that requires a thousand words of legal jargon to describe.

For example, we use tree diagrams to illustrate lines of succession. Using pie charts, we illuminate how an estate is distributed across beneficiaries, and we use asset waterfalls to show “who gets what.” In the estate plan overview, a growth chart provides a snapshot of the current estate as well as how taxes and assets may scale in the years to come.

Estate reporting sparks meaningful conversations

Vanilla’s estate report acts as a conversation starter, enabling you to better understand your client’s goals and uncovering more opportunities to work together. It transforms an often-dreaded process—estate planning—into an experience that deepens your relationship with your clients and brings their plans to life.

Vanilla Sample Report - opportunities
Vanilla provides ongoing estate-plan monitoring, empowering advisors to suggest updates and improvements to plans.

Estate planning doesn’t have to be a mind-numbing ordeal for you or your clients. Sign up for Vanilla and use estate reporting to clearly tell the story of your clients’ legacies, while sparking intimate conversations that can expand and strengthen your relationships.

Deepen client relationships through estate planning with Vanilla

This article is for educational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice. If you feel that the information in this article is pertinent to your situation, you may wish to consult a qualified attorney for advice tailored to your circumstances.



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