As an estate-planning attorney, I sometimes face troubling dilemmas. For example, I have a client who wants to give a significant amount of money to Planned Parenthood. As a professional, I don’t feel like I can comment on this—even suggesting another organization feels like offering unasked-for and probably unwanted advice. But facilitating this donation is uncomfortable. How should I think about this?
Dear Uncomfortable Attorney,
I think you are right to feel uncomfortable assisting someone in giving a large donation to an organization like Planned Parenthood. As someone hired for the advice that you give, you should feel some moral responsibility for the actions you help set into motion.
And yet you are hired for legal and tax advice, not for your recommendations on charitable giving. Additionally, there are likely professional ethical and legal rules and expectations that would prevent you from offering the wisdom that this client would clearly benefit from.
In my own work, I spend a lot of time with financial advisers, many of whom end up in similar situations. They are responsible for managing a client’s money. So they choose the stocks, bonds, and mutual funds that allow a client to meet their financial goals while avoiding the pitfalls that make it difficult to meet those goals. Their job is to recommend what to buy and sell and how much to invest or withdraw.
Like you, financial advisers can find themselves in similar moral dilemmas. As many as half of the large companies in the United States have some exposure to things like abortion, tobacco, gambling, adult entertainment, weapons manufacturing, or other goods and services that many Christians would like to avoid. Many advisers feel uncomfortable profiting from these activities, even tangentially. But, like you, they have professional obligations to serve their clients without commenting on possible moral concerns.
Here’s how I’ve seen Christian advisers navigate these thorns and thistles: They seek to understand the values that all of their clients hold, and they do this by asking questions. Advice is unwanted—especially about deeply held beliefs—anytime it is given without deep care and respect. Excellent advisors demonstrate profound concern simply by asking questions. How did you become involved with this charity? What other charities do work that you value? Perhaps in your client’s responses you’ll find an opportunity to connect personally, and maybe you can divert some giving to a better cause.
Christian advisers seek to understand the values that all of their clients hold, and they do this by asking questions.
To do this well might require asking good questions with all of your clients, and this can be an opportunity to avoid starting relationships with people who may put you in a difficult position. As an estate attorney, you are in a great place to want to understand a person’s deeply held values, because you are the expert they trust to ensure those values are put into practice at the end of life.
If this approach seems to be working for you, a next step might be to position your practice in such a way as to attract the sort of client whose values would fit well with your own. In my experience, I’ve seen that when you connect with a client on a deeper level, beyond that of a standard transaction, your clients are more likely to trust you and enjoy working with you. Their referrals—especially if asking for them becomes one of your questions—can be the source of a good deal of new business.
In the end, this isn’t your money or your wish, and therefore not your responsibility. However, it is better to avoid, if you can, the discomfort you rightly feel. I hope your unease prompts you toward deeper and more meaningful service to people whose end-of-life planning may open them to your valuable advice.