Super Bowl XXV featured a faceoff between the proud defense of the New York Giants, led by defensive coordinator Bill Belichick, and a Buffalo Bills offense that had often been described as “unstoppable.” The Bills, led by quarterback Jim Kelly, powered their way through the 1990 season with a no-huddle offense that led the NFL in scoring. Only a couple of weeks prior, the Bills soundly beat the Raiders in the AFC Championship Game, scoring 51 points.
As it turned out, the Giants shut down the Bills offense, winning the Super Bowl 20-19 on the evening of January 27, 1991, thanks to a missed field goal by Bills kicker Scott Norwood as time expired. Many credited Belichick’s now legendary defensive game plan for the win. In fact, his defensive playbook, a big blue binder filled with page after page of brilliant words and diagrams, is now an artifact in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
His plan is now almost universally described as “genius.” But that wasn’t always the case. When the young Belichick initially introduced his plan to the team, he opened with a bold idea. He told the team that they were going to allow Bills running back Thurman Thomas to get 100 yards. The players were not shy in expressing their displeasure with Belichick’s plan; they emotionally argued with the defensive coordinator during the team meeting and described his plan as insulting.
I’ve never claimed to be a football genius, but it seems to me that one of the key qualities that led to the success of Belichick’s game plan was its proper balance of priorities. He knew that his defense could either successfully shut down the Bills’ running game or it could shut down Jim Kelly’s air attack, but it could not effectively do both. Belichick surveyed his options and set his priorities in a way that gave his team the best chance of success.
The framework for Belichick’s plan can work just as well off the field as it did for the Giants’ defense in Super Bowl XXV. In life, just like in football, we must set our priorities in a way that gives us the best chance of success, and then we must deploy the resources we have at our disposal accordingly.
A huge first step in the estate planning process is setting priorities, and a good estate plan is one that properly balances those priorities. Take for example a married couple that comes into the office wanting to “get their affairs in order.” The best starting point for them would be to list the goals and objectives they have in mind for their plan and prioritize them in order of importance.
This couple might say that their number one goal is to keep their estate out of probate court when they die. They might also want to take steps to minimize taxes during their lifetimes and the taxes owed by their kids after they’re gone. This couple might want to protect the inheritance they want to leave to their children from any legal problems those children might face down the road, such as bankruptcy, divorce, and lawsuits. They might also have concerns about the high costs of long-term care. To top it off, their final goal will probably be to keep the plan “as simple as possible.”
Each and every one of this couple’s goals can be met with a good estate plan; however, the plan they create might be different from their neighbors’ plans. As the Giants’ defense learned, there is often a little give and take when it comes to meeting multiple priorities. The Giants had to give up a little on the running game to shut down Jim Kelly and his receivers in order to win the Super Bowl. In estate planning, you might have to give up a little on one slightly less important goal to make sure you take care of your higher priorities in the best way possible.
You need a plan. Take the time today to write down your estate planning priorities, then talk with a qualified estate planning attorney to discover all the options available to you. Having a plan might not be as exciting as winning the Super Bowl, but you will feel great when you get it done.