My dad was my law partner for over 20 years, and one of his favorite (!) trial stories was the client who, in the middle of cross-examination by the opposing attorney, began a response with, “I ain’t even told my lawyer this yet, but…”. I’ve also had the dubious pleasure of having a client say, “Well, I just didn’t think you needed to know that!” at precisely the wrong moment – you know, just AFTER the nick of time. Like the lady who told my legal assistant a few weeks ago, just before we were going to do a house call to execute a will for her dying father, “Oh, there IS another daughter out there, but we didn’t think that was important.”
I do some advising for people who need security clearances and are filling out the (exhausting) form, an eQIP or SF86. This is an extensive background check and relies on the information the applicant provides. My advice is to ALWAYS err on the side of disclosure, because it’s easier to get the bad stuff out there and have a chance to explain it than to have to explain it AND explain why you didn’t mention it earlier.
Try as we might, attorneys sometimes just can’t get clients to supply all the facts. Questionnaires get partially completed, emails or calls go unreturned, sometimes the client is just too cagey for his or her own good. And sometimes the attorney doesn’t ask the right questions.
Here’s a tip if you ever need the help of a lawyer: spill it! Insufficient facts make bad solutions. If there’s something you think might hurt your case or crimp your plan, TELL ME! If at the end of a conversation with the lawyer who’s doing your estate planning there’s still something niggling at the back of your brain, bring it up! If you have questions about how your draft will reads, ASK. If it’s nothing to worry about, I’ll tell you. If it does matter, we’ve identified it and can deal with it. Remember, the attorney-client relationship is confidential and privileged, so even if it’s something shocking, with a very few exceptions, I can’t tell anybody anyway. Sometimes the worst thing you can do to yourself is keep it to yourself.
As always, the above is legal information, not legal advice, and is based on Texas law because I’m a Texas lawyer. If you need the help of an attorney, make sure you choose one who has experience in that area of law and is willing to answer your questions. And then SPILL IT!