Once you’ve decided to consult an estate planning attorney, there are numerous, highly qualified experts to choose from. Why should you choose my firm?
(a) Customized Planning.
(b) Guidance - about your options, and in deciding which "fits" you best.
(c) Funding or retitling - help with how to get each and every asset "set up right."
Customized: I don’t sell documents. Or worse, generic "forms." I sell a service: exploring all your options, your family, the “players” and the dynamics between them, their current and future needs, your hopes and fears. I help you decide which components (estate planning tools) are best for your family. Your estate plan is tailored and customized, to “fit” your family, and assets, perfectly.
Guidance: I take time to fully explain your options. (Clients say I’m good at making it clear, easy to understand.) Once you’ve decided, I also guide you on how the trust or estate plan works, and exactly what you need to do, after you leave my office. You can call or email months later, for follow up guidance, generally at no extra cost. Plus, I’m here to guide your family, after you’re gone, when they don’t have you, and they need help understanding what to do, or not do.
Funding or Retitling: This step is critical. My competition doesn’t do it. (It takes too much time.) Once you create a trust, it’s critical that each and every one of your assets or accounts either:
(a) Be “retitled” in the name of the trust, now; or
(b) Have a new “beneficiary designation” leaving it to the trust, at death; or
(c) Have a “Transfer on Death” (TOD) or “Payable on Death” (POD) designation placed on the account. Even vehicles.
I take the time to learn about every asset you have. I train you exactly how to do this for each of your assets, so that each one works in harmony with your plan, and none have to later “go through probate.” For a modest extra fee (if you want), I will even take over, get very involved, and help you get it done, asset by asset, account by account.
Funding – Real Estate: The most important asset to have retitled, and the one you cannot do by yourself, is your home or other real estate. It takes a real estate lawyer. I insist on doing it. No extra charge. For every piece of real estate you own, we WILL either “deed it into” the trust now, or use a “Transfer on Death Deed” to make sure title and ownership goes to your trustee, without probate, immediately upon your death. (In Missouri, it’s called a “Beneficiary Deed,” but same issue and same result.)
Many Estate Planning Lawyers Don't Do This! Failing to can create a minor disaster. (Actual client story: the mother of my clients had paid $3,000 to another lawyer to draft a trust. They came to me after she died. The trust document was fine. But the lawyer had never helped her deed her real estate into the trust. She didn't know she needed to. She died owning real estate in three different states. It ultimately required three separate probate cases to get the land to her children. It cost them $17,000 in legal fees. Her trust “owned” absolutely nothing, and was of no use or purpose.) I help you “fund” your trust. And I insist we get the real estate done right, before you even leave my office.
Funding – LLC’s, Closely Held Businesses, Private Investments: I ask the right questions, I learn what you own, and I know how to get these “special assets” into your trust at the moment of your death, without probate. Including “Buy / Sell Agreements” with your non-family partners, and “business succession planning.” (Actual client story: a Doctor did good estate planning, but missed just one asset - a “membership in an LLC.” That one asset required a probate case, five lawyers, and $14,000 in legal fees.) I work harder than anyone else to make sure you don’t miss any assets.
I Work Well with the Rest of Your Team: I seek to be part of a multi-disciplinary team with your CPA, CFP, Investment Advisor, or tax preparer. It takes more of my time (and remember: these are "flat fee" projects, not "billable hours.") But clients are better served when their professionals take the extra time to communicate with each other, about your assets, to make sure we’re all working in harmony towards your goals.
IF You’ve Read to Here, Please Pardon the Length! This stuff is complicated. Estate Planning is a specialty area of law that takes a lawyer many years of study to be proficient and skilled. (I've invested that time; see my Bio.)
I’d be honored to discuss your goals and needs, in detail, and in person. Call me.
Estate Planning isn’t defined by “wealth level.” Everyone who owns any assets and might die someday (all of us) needs at least a basic estate plan in place. Estate Planning simply means thinking ahead about who will inherit your life savings or other property, and how to preserve it for them, avoid big losses of your savings after you’re gone, and how to make the legal process as easy as possible on those you love (remember: they’re grieving). It's about how to leverage your assets, to their greatest positive, long-lasting impact, on the lives of those you love.
What is “Family wealth”? It is your life savings - - regardless of amount. It is not a certain dollar amount, or level of “wealth.” Most of my clients do Not consider themselves “wealthy.” (The self-made never do.) But they have assets. And family. They need a basic estate plan.
And Planning for Your Own Needs, During Illness or Final Years. Estate planning isn’t just about what happens to property after you die. It’s also about your life. Your needs. When you’re sick, elderly, when you need help, or at the very end, when you’re dying. Which family or friend will help you, or decide for you when you can't? How can you be certain that hospitals and banks will take direction from them? Don’t leave any of that to chance. Everyone needs expert counselling and guidance about “Durable Powers of Attorney,” so that the right person is chosen to assist them when they need it, and so that person has all the legal authority that they’ll need.
Long Term Care. And everyone needs to consider, in advance, the possibility of needing a nursing home or “long term care.” Planning is especially vital on this topic.
Advance Directives. Finally, at the very end of life, you want to be sure that a hospital will honor your desire to be allowed to pass away naturally, with dignity. Everyone, regardless of assets, needs an “Advance Directive” to make sure they are not kept alive indefinitely, poked and prodded, hooked up to tubes and machines, long after it is helpful. (Tip: Keeping your body alive is “what they do,” plus they’re afraid of being sued. You need to tell them it’s OK to let you go – in fact, order them to, in the right legal document. And you want to make that decision yourself, in advance. Don’t leave your loved ones with the huge emotional burden of deciding when to “pull the plug.”)
We Can Keep It Simple. Options range from a basic “simple will,” to a complex plan with multiple trusts for multiple different purposes or beneficiaries. Your needs may indeed be simple. I don’t recommend a plan that’s more complex than will actually benefit you. I spend plenty of time (no extra charge) educating you about all of your options, and the costs and benefits, the pros and cons, of each option. But you always have the final say, regarding cost and complexity. I’m just here to help you make a very well informed choice.
Peace of mind. Afterwards, you rest easy, knowing the plan is done right, and in effect. Your wishes will be carried out, privately, without fighting or arguments. Your life savings will be used the way you wanted, and preserved from many possible losses.
Grow or Protect a Financial Legacy. Depending on the age and health of your heirs, and the urgency of their real needs, it may be possible for your estate to grow significantly after your death, eventually providing for your loved ones the most precious thing that money can buy: long-term financial security, and peace of mind. But only if managed wisely, by trustworthy, responsible persons, who have the ability to call on experienced professionals for investment, tax, and legal help. You can arrange for that, in advance. They will be thanking you for decades - or for generations.
Why Most People Avoid Estate Planning (and Why YOU Shouldn’t). Mortality makes us all uncomfortable or anxious. “Normal” people don’t enjoy thinking about death. Some seem to think that planning will make illness more likely, or make death come earlier. (It doesn’t!). But mature, responsible adults face reality and deal with it; they plan. We don’t like thinking of car wrecks or house fires either, but we buy insurance and wear seat belts, right? Unfortunately, death and leaving property to others, these will happen – they are part of life. Illness, infirmity, or mental decline might happen. Smart people plan for big risks. Estate Planning is proven to reduce your fear and anxiety, not make it worse. It makes a very bad time of life less painful, less costly, less uncertain and confusing. Every single client I’ve done estate planning for has left my office relieved, glad to have it done, and feeling good about the benefits provided (and burdens lifted) for family and loved ones. Every single one. (And frankly, many were relieved to be able to “forget about it again,” but now with a clean conscience!)
What Happens if you Don’t Plan? If you don’t plan, the judge, lawyers, or even the legislature will decide who gets what. The fees and costs get much worse. The delays can be far longer. Or worse, your family might squabble, fight, accuse each other, harm their relationships, and maybe even sue each other. (Trust me. I’m not making this up. I see it every day. Part of my law practice is “fiduciary litigation.” It happens in families where Mom and Dad would not have predicted it. Fights and lawsuits usually occur where Mom and Dad failed to have any legally effective, intelligent estate plan in place. When it does occur, the legal fees are high, and the emotional toll is worse. It is the worst possible result of not creating an estate plan.)
Avoid “Substitutes for Estate Planning.” Many people try to use “substitutes,” rather than talking to an expert or spending any money to plan. Substitutes create problems. Don’t put your child on your account as a joint owner. Don’t put your child on the title to your house. It exposes “your” assets to “their” creditors, including divorcing spouses, and to their possible mismanagement. Since they are a current "owner," the assets could even be spent before your death. Whatever is left at your death, depending on your real goal, it may later require a legal “gift” from your child to others (possible a “taxable gift”) - that they have the freedom to make, or not make. Assuming they're willing to make the gift, then It could force them to pay experts to prepare and file a “gift tax return.” Substitutes for proper estate planning are risky; they often do more harm than good.
Won’t a Simple Will be Enough? Aren’t Trusts for Rich People? A simple will might be adequate, but No, trusts are not just for rich people. Whether you would benefit from a trust has far more to do with your family circumstances, than with your “level of wealth.” A billionaire with no children, leaving it all to charity, does not need a trust. Normal people with children, especially modern “blended families,” can benefit tremendously from trusts. It depends on your goals and circumstances, not your wealth level. (Learn more at the “Trusts” page of this site.)
“My Mom or Dad is Declining, or Dying. Is it Too Late?” You may be grieving. Someone you love may be declining fast, perhaps even dying. They’ve done no estate planning. In addition to the grief over the loss of your loved one, you also fear an impending legal nightmare. But if they have a Power of Attorney, it may not be too late. Huge costs can still be avoided. (Actual client story: a client was dying, and her only asset was a home. She wanted a deed ($250) done while she was alive, giving the house to her children. Her agent (Power of Attorney) could have signed the deed for mom, but did not know that. Mom died faster than expected. It was now too late for a deed. The window of opportunity was gone. Getting ownership of the home to her children, after mom’s death, required a 13 month probate, and cost $10,000.) It’s better to plan at the very end, than to die with no plan at all. Call me as early as possible. But don’t just do nothing. It may not be too late.