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A Different Approach to Planning

The Estate Planning Center located in Salem, Illinois, is strictly an ESTATE PLANNING law firm. We found years ago that it is impossible for an attorney to be very good at anything if he or she tried to do everything. So we gave up the “general practice” label in 1996 and started limiting our services strictly to estate planning.

To us this means helping you plan and structure your life and affairs to accomplish this “Definition” of estate planning:

  1. I Want to Control My Property While I’m Alive and Well
  2. Plan for Me and My Loved Ones in case I Become Disabled
  3. Then Give What I Have to Whom I Want
  4. Give it When I Want to and the Way I Want
  5. All While Assuring My Wisdom is Transferred Along with the Rest of My Wealth
  6. and While reducing the cost to the family in professional fees and taxes.

We practice this every day with clients from all walks of life, and we spend weeks each year in continuing education to stay at the cutting edge of our field.

The founding attorney, Curt W. Ferguson, is a distinguished member of the National Network of Estate Planning Attorneys and a common instructor at National Network attorney training events.


What is “LifeSpan™…what we have sometimes called TLC Planning™? In a nutshell, we help each client family create a plan that incorporates their Tender Loving Care, then help them maintain it so the entire estate planning process will be completed at minimal cost to the family: costs like legal fees, emotional stress, and taxes.

We are committed to providing our clients estate plans that WORK! To assure this, we have procedures and protocols in our firm that we ask clients to follow. Some people don’t qualify to be our clients, because they don’t care enough to put in the time and effort it takes to have a plan that works. We know from experience that their estate plan will fail if WE care more about it than THEY do, and we don’t want to be associated with a failing plan!

One recent study found that approximately 80% of all living trust estate plans are destined to fail! Other research puts it at over 90%. Why? Because of the lack of support and attention through the entire planning process. You see, for an estate plan to work, it must be successful through three distinct phases, or steps. We make uncommon commitments to provide our clients full service throughout all stages of the process. The Three Step Strategy™ – which in our experience is the best way to make sure your plan accomplishes your goals – works like this:

STEP 1: DEVELOP Your Plan with Counselling-Oriented Planning Professionals

It is difficult for a person to plan if they don’t know what is possible, and it is difficult to know what is possible unless an experienced professional (1) discusses in depth with you your true fears, hopes, dreams and goals, then (2) applies his or her experience to offer you the tools to address them.

A counseling oriented professional will help you learn the wide array of planning possibilities, so you can make informed decisions about what you WANT to achieve. Such an attorney will allow you to control what your objectives are rather than steering you toward his or her “standard form” documents by telling you “you could do [whatever you asked about], but MOST of my clients do this.” Don’t go there! You tell the attorney what is important for and special about you and your family, and insist that the attorney learn from you rather than steering you toward a one-size-fits-all form! Are all trusts or wills “created equal”? Certainly not if you want it to fit your unique family and your heart-felt objectives.

On the other hand, some clients go in to the attorney saying “I want a trust” or “I want a will.” Do you really know what legal, technical document will best accomplish your real-life goals? That is probably what you should be asking the attorney, not telling them! Instead, explain to your attorney what you want to accomplish with your plan:

  • stay in control?
  • avoid probate?
  • protect assets for your children?
  • avoid estate taxes?
  • Help keep assets in the family?
  • Give your kids all available tools to preserve and protect their inheritance into the future?
  • avoid public disclosure of assets?
  • minimize legal costs?
  • make sure the in-laws-turned-outlaws can’t touch it?
  • fund grandchildren’s education?
  • avoid capital gain taxes? protect assets from the nursing home?

Only when the attorney knows your ultimate objectives and priorities can he or she design a plan to achieve them. And that list was only a brief start! The instructions you decide to leave in your estate plan may be very comprehensive and very personal. (For more on this see Documents … or RESULTS?)

Ultimately your Tender Loving Care for your family should provide the foundation for your plan. A counselling-oriented attorney will help you sort and prioritize your objectives, then help you build your estate plan on that foundation of TLC.

STEP 2: COMMIT Yourself and Your Family to a Formal Continuing Maintenance and Education Program

It is essential that you maintain the plan as your life and the law changes. (See the Planning For Change and Keeping Your Plan Current pages on our web site.)

Initially all assets you own must be lined up with the thoughtful, personal instructions you created in Step 1. This is sometimes referred to as “funding” your estate plan. Then we mutually commit with our clients assist them as their assets change, as their family changes, and as their goals or objectives change.

We also provide clients the assurance that their plan will not become outdated as laws change. Each year there are typically dozens, even hundreds of changes in the law, many of which have an impact on existing estate plans. We accept the responsibility of helping our clients keep up as these changes occur, so the plans will work when a disability or death occurs.

Finally, in order to prepare the family for their duties when the disability or death occurs, we provide ongoing education for clients and their families (see Introductory Workshops). This “training” is an essential link between creating a great plan in Step 1 and carrying it out at a low cost to the family on death, Step 3.

STEP 3: SECURE Appropriate Assistance for You and Your Family to Transfer Your Wisdom Along With the Rest of Your Wealth

Proactively engaging professionals to help you and your family prepare for the work and stress surrounding death is a smart thing to do. Securing assistance in the legal settlement process is a virtual necessity, and it is a comfortable engagement when the family has begun a relationship with the attorney in advance. Most people want to see that their plan will be administered upon death at the very lowest cost to their family. After working with the family over a period of perhaps many years, even decades, we are a natural fit when it comes time to settle the estate. Our firm is one of only a handful in the country that provides written disclosures and assurances that a client’s estate plan will not only stay in compliance with the law, but also will be administered at the lowest possible cost upon death. We put these commitments in writing, so no client has reason to worry or wonder.

It only makes sense:

  1. if you spend serious, thoughtful time designing a plan,
  2. if your attorney spends that time with you developing and creating it, then
  3. if you stay in touch with the law firm over the years, and
  4. throughout that time the firm gets to know you and your family, and
  5. the professionals have an annually-updated list of your assets so they don’t have to go through the morbid scavenger hunt at death, and
  6. your family has been educated on estate administration so they know what to do, and
  7. your legal documents have been updated regularly so they are at the cutting edge of the law,

then of course it will be an efficient, tidy and streamlined process of administration on death!

LifeSpan™: A different way to plan your estate. A way that WORKS!

We invite you to become a client of our firm. The place to start is by attending one of our client orientation workshops where you’ll learn a lot more about this unique approach to estate planning. (See Event Calendar) We are licensed in Illinois and Missouri, and have colleagues who can help you in most other states. If you ask for a referral to someone in your state, we can usually connect you with an attorney who understands and believes in the Three Step Strategy™ Planning Process.