Explaining to you how we’re different when it comes to estate-related matters requires an explanation of what the “traditional” experience with a lawyer in such matters is like. If you’ve had a lawyer prepare estate planning documents for you in the past or you’ve been involved in the administration of the estate of a loved one who has died, this will sound familiar.
The Traditional Model
During the traditional experience, you’ll go in and meet with a lawyer who will typically make things seem very complicated and confusing. You’ll have a good idea that the lawyer is smart and seems to know what he’s doing, so you’ll nod and answer questions, as if you understand everything.
If your reason for being there is estate planning, because you want to do the right thing for your family, you’ll have the lawyer prepare documents for you and you’ll sign the documents, feeling relieved that you’ve got that “taken care of.”
You’ll take your planning documents home, stick them on a shelf or in a drawer, mark estate planning off on your checklist as DONE! and never think about it again.
You might remember that your lawyer said something about moving your bank accounts into your trust, but you’re not really sure because he or she gave you so much information at that meeting. So you’ll go to the bank, forget what you were supposed to do, call your lawyer’s office, get voicemail, leave the bank, and wait for a call back (which takes several hours at least and sometimes days). By the time you speak to your lawyer, you’ll have gotten busy with other things and may never get around to moving that bank account into your trust. It happens to a lot of people in traditional estate planning.
A few weeks later, you’ll get a bill in the mail for $50, $100 or more for the minutes your lawyer spent answering your brief questions. You’ll make a mental note, “Don’t call the lawyer unless it’s an emergency!”
Several years later, maybe you’ll refinance your house or sell it and buy a new one and forget that you were supposed to let your lawyer know or make sure you kept the title in the name of the trust.
Your children will get older, making your guardianship choices outdated, but you don’t want to call your lawyer because you know you’ll get a bill in the mail two weeks later.
You’ll hear something about a change in the tax law, but you figure you’d surely hear from your lawyer if it was something that affected you, so you don’t worry about it. Besides, you might have to dig through a box to find your trust documents so you could find your lawyer’s name and find his contact information. Who has time for that?
Will Your Family’s Plan Work When Needed?
It’s not until you become incapacitated or die and your family finds those documents you signed that someone will realize that your plan is so outdated that it has nothing to do with your life, your assets, or the law.
Your family is at a loss. They don’t know where to turn or what to do, so they contact the same lawyer you used to prepare the documents, who is as happy as can be to probate your assets that never made it into the trust.
How do I know all this? Because I saw it happen repeatedly before I changed how we do things!
I will never forget having to tell the family of a senior trust officer at a bank that his will would have to be probated because his trust was only partially funded. While giving them that very bad and unexpected news, I said silently to myself, “Houston, we have a problem!
I had the very same reaction when talking to families of business executives, entrepreneurs, doctors, university professors, lawyers, and others who were among the smartest and most successful people I had ever met – yet their plans, too, were outdated and/or partially funded.
Hospitals test their emergency generators on a regular basis. Warning sirens and radio emergency warning systems are tested monthly. We test our smoke alarms when we switch our clocks to Daylight Savings Time and back, too. Why? Because when those things are needed, they are REALLY needed and the possibility of failure carries too great a risk to bear. Why, I asked myself, aren’t people doing the same with their family’s plan for dealing with life’s contingencies and transitions?
What I came to see clearly is that the traditional estate planning industry was not designed to serve growing families who experience lots of change on their way to success. It was designed to serve old people who were preparing for death, soon.
The Quest for a Better Way.
I found the solution to these problems by combining the best pieces from the practices of some truly outstanding lawyers that I have known during my career. One of them is my cousin who is the personal lawyer for one of the wealthiest ranching families in Texas. Another is an old friend and colleague who called on me to help his main client in complex technical regulatory matters in which I had demonstrated particular expertise. He, too, is the personal lawyer for an extremely wealthy Texas family.
As the personal lawyers for super-wealthy Texas families with far-flung business interests, they know their clients very well and keep up with them regularly, making sure that their clients’ business and personal plans keep up with changes in their businesses and assets, family situations, and the laws. They don’t work “by the hour,” but instead get an annual retainer to be on call as needed. And they don’t handle all of these families’ legal affairs. Although they both have a very wide knowledge of the law, they also know the best lawyers to send their clients to when a matter is outside their expertise.
Resolved – find a way to give my clients the kind of personal lawyer relationship that those super wealthy families have with their lawyers.
The third was my godfather. He had many loyal clients whom he served very well in a personal, caring way. However, he practiced alone and his clients were left with no one to turn to when he had a stroke and had to stop practicing law.
Resolved – find a way to make sure that my clients will not be left stranded when something happens to me.
The fourth lawyer was one of my mentors right after I graduated from law school. He loved his clients dearly and really cared about their needs, but he was locked into that big firm’s requirement that everything be done on an hourly fee basis. Even though he cared deeply about his clients, the hourly-fee barrier kept him isolated from them.
Resolved – find a way to keep hourly fees from isolating us from our clients.
By taking the best from each of these four practice models and others, I have built a new practice model and system.
A New Practice Model.
Our system for helping clients meets our clients’ immediate planning needs, helps them make the very best decisions throughout their lifetimes, and then helps their families when they cannot be there. We do all of this for agreed fixed-fees set in advance before any of the work is done. By not using hourly rates, we give our clients the security and comfort that comes from being able to ask for help whenever a problem comes up.
We Help You Prepare for Life.
Another thing that makes our firm different is that we were built with the needs of growing families in mind. We understand you are BUSY! You are planning for a life of prosperity and you value ease, convenience, and efficiency. You want to know you’ve made the best decisions for your family and that your plan will work when your loved ones need it most — when you can’t be there. You want to make sure your children will be taken care of in the best way possible and will be prepared to receive your wealth if anything happens to you.
That is our focus as well. We’ve developed unique systems to give you the same access to a personal family lawyer as was previously only available to the likes of the very rich so you can have the guidance you need to build and maintain a life of prosperity and wealth.
We Encourage Communication.
We encourage communication with our clients. In fact, we’ve thrown out the time clocks so you never have to be afraid to call with a quick question (or even a not-so-quick question) about estate planning, estate administration, or any other legal subject. Everything we do is billed on a flat-fee basis, agreed to in advance, so there are never any surprises.
When you call our office to ask your quick question, you won’t have to wait hours or days for a phone call back. You’ll get your question answered, right away. And, if you need to schedule a more in-depth legal or strategic call with us, it will be scheduled when we’re both available and ready for the call so we can make the very best use of our time and not waste it leaving voicemail after voicemail back and forth.
We Follow Through with You.
And, we make sure the most important details of your planning are followed through on and work with you to make sure that your plan continues to work throughout your lifetime.
By working with us, you can be assured that your plan works throughout your lifetime and none of your assets will end up going through a long, expensive court process or being lost to the state because they were missed after your death.
Passing on What’s Most Precious
Lastly, we believe your Financial Wealth is only about a quarter of your overall “Family Wealth,” which is includes your far more valuable Intellectual, Spiritual, and Human Wealth – who you are and what’s important to you.
Traditional estate plans only address the transfer of your Financial Wealth on to the next generation. Your much greater Intellectual, Spiritual, and Human Wealth is intangible, which makes it more difficult to capture. If it is lost, there is no financial impact to be reported to anyone, so the traditional estate planning lawyer does not worry about it. As a result, those assets are usually irretrievably lost when someone passes away.
How much do you know about your grandparents values? What were their most prized personal possessions? How did they feel about you and your parents? What priceless lessons did they learn during their lifetimes? What would your grandchildren’s answers be to those questions?
If you are like most people, you know very little about your grandparents. But, the wealthiest families make sure that they pass their Intellectual, Spiritual, and Human Wealth on to the next and succeeding generations just as they do their Financial Wealth. And, that’s part of the reason the rich keep getting richer.
We’ve developed tools that allow us to help you pass on your whole family wealth, including your Intellectual, Spiritual, and Human Wealth. I won’t go into all of the details here, but we’ll definitely talk about this when you come into meet with us to talk about having your own personal family lawyer, just like the wealthiest families do.
We look forward to meeting you soon and sitting down with you for a Family Wealth Planning Session. In it, we will explore with you how we can help you to plan life’s transitions, expected and unexpected, and protect your family.
PS – If you think this all sounds expensive, well, you’re right and you’re wrong. I can guarantee you that if you qualify to work with us, your planning will be substantially less costly than it would be for your family if you died with a plan that didn’t work or if you didn’t have a plan in place at all. And, I’ve never had a single family who believed in this kind of planning and wanted to put it in place for their loved ones leave my office because they couldn’t afford it. We’ve made creative financing available to our clients because we know that this planning is the foundation for a life of success!
To learn about our process, CLICK HERE.