How to pick an estate attorney – 4 questions to ask

Here are the questions I want any client to ask before they hire Edwards Group LLC to complete their estate plan.

1. Is this the right law firm for you? (We’re not for everyone because we do things quite a bit differently than most attorneys.)

2. Are you the right client for us? We are picky about our clients, who we expect to become clients for life.

3. Is this the right time for you? Plan when you believe in it and are ready to invest your time and energy (and money) to do it right.

4. Do you clearly understand the fees? We are up front and quote flat fees before we start so we can dig into the planning without any more thoughts or worries about what it may cost.

Will your estate attorney outlive you?

Interesting article in State Journal-Register yesterday. Percentage of attorneys in Illinois who are are between 50-74 years old went from 22% in 1993 to 39% in 2008.

http://www.sj-r.com/homepage/x2085729714/Number-of-lawyers-over-age-50-climbs?view=print

Fairly often, I hear new clients tell me they were looking for someone “younger than they are” to be around to handle their estate and help the family after they’re gone. I don’t market myself that way, but I guess it makes sense.

Transitions in Life

BAILEY’S “NEW SCHOOL”

At our house, we are in the middle of a transition. 2 1/2 year old Bailey is switching to a new daycare. For the last couple of years, Bailey has gone 2-3 days a week to her “school” (Memorial Childcare) when Michelle is working as a nurse at Memorial Medical Center or substitute teaching at Butler Elementary.
Because of my new office location and some schedule changes for Michelle’s work, it no longer made sense to drive across town to drop off and pick up Bailey at Memorial. So, yesterday was her last day and she is going to be switching to Pleasant Run Learning Center which is right down the street from my new office.
We’re excited about the new school (it has been highly recommended) and how convenient it will be, but it’s still sad. Bailey loves it at Memorial. She’s had the most wonderful teachers and she’s gotten to know her little friends. When we say our prayers over the dinner table, she tells us different of her little friends that she wants to pray for. And some of her friend’s parents are our friends that we knew even before Bailey was born.
The transition is harder for mom and dad than for Bailey. It’s hard for us to move her from a place that we have trusted and that has played such a big part in her life these past 2 years. But Bailey is ready to go! After visiting her new school for an hour with mom a couple weeks ago, she woke up the next morning wanting to go start at her new school THAT day. I said, well, it will be a couple of weeks until you switch.
Wouldn’t it be great if we all dealt with transitions as well as a toddler does? (at least this transition).

THIS IS WHAT I DO (transitions)

Which reminded me that what I do every day is help people with transitions. Some transitions are planned and some are not. Some we will all face at some point in our life and others only some of us will have to deal with. Some we plan for, hoping we never have to use those plans. Other plans we know will be used eventually. (they say the human condition is 100% fatal).
I help people plan for transitions before they happen, and help other people deal with the stress of a transition as it is it happening. Without enough preparation, there is always greater stress and expense, and the result of the transition is not always what the person expected.
I enjoy helping clients plan and gain real peace of mind. It’s much more difficult to see my clients struggling through a difficult situation that could have been much easier with proper planning beforehand.

What is your job, what is the attorney’s job

Boring is defined as “so lacking in interest as to cause mental weariness.”

Well, hopefully this post is not really boring, but I wanted to make a point. I have a theory that most of the estate planning information being said or written by attorneys out there is BORING.

And by boring, I don’t mean it is wrong or not important. But I do mean that it doesn’t talk about the things that matter to you. Why is that? I think it’s because many attorneys have forgotten what their job is and what your job is. If it were the attorney’s job just to write down what you tell them (basically a scrivener), then you would need to understand all the technical aspects of tax law, probate, asset protection, etc.

The IRS Code – is that why you plan your estate, to learn tax law? When you go to a doctor because you are sick, do you want an anatomy lesson or a discussion of the latest medical journals? No, you just want to get well.

I have found that estate planning works best when I have a job to do and my clients have a job to do. What is the client’s job? To tell me about their family, their dreams, concerns, fears, how they want to live their life and how they want to be remembered. It’s my job to guide them through some options to clarify their goals. Once we decide the goals, it is my job to use legal and tax strategies to accomplish those goals.

Am I Your Type?

There are 4 types of estate planning:

Do nothing. Let others sort it out later.

Do it yourself. Get a form and fill in the blanks. How hard can it be?

Use a document-driven attorney. Pay lots of money for a fancier form that someone else fills out for you.

Use a counseling-oriented attorney. Build a lifelong relationship with someone you can trust… someone who also knows your other family members, understands your family values and collaborates with your other advisors (tax, financial, banking, insurance). Work with this person over time to create a personalized plan that is always up to date. Experience peace of mind knowing you’ve done everything within your power to protect your loved ones and the things for which you’ve worked so hard.

So, am I your type?

What are you proud of?

Do you ever feel pretty proud of yourself? Kind of interesting the stuff that we get proud of. Here are some of the things I have been proud of lately:

1. stopped drinking diet soda. Used to drink it all the time, for years, but my mom kept telling me it would give me cancer eventually. Finally I decided it can’t be good for me, all that fake sugar. So I stopped. I forget when it was exactly. I think it was over a year ago. Since then, I can count on one hand the times I drank diet soda.

2. I ran a 5k. Actually finished it in 30 minutes. I think I may have come up with a new exercise program. Run a 5k every month and do nothing in between. I may do another 5k this Saturday, but I actually have run a little bit since the last 5k a month ago. But that last one was my first organized race ever. I liked it. Plus I got a free t-shirt.

3. I’m almost done with a Lyndon Johnson biography by Robert Dallek , part of my lifelong quest of reading a biography about every president. For some reason, this one has been tough sledding. But I only have about 100 pages to go. I’m proud of myself now, and will be even prouder when I’m done. Then I think I will next read the Nixon biography by Stephen Ambrose. (I’m a big Ambrose fan.)

Then I kept thinking about this stuff. Is this the stuff I want to be remembered for when I’m dead and gone? Strange how small things seem worth some pride even if it’s not anything of real eternal significance. How do you want to be remembered? What do you want your friends and family to say about you? What kind of son, husband, father, brother, friend, boss, employee, or neighbor do you want to be known as?

Ok, gotta go. Need to knock out a few more pages of that LBJ biography before bed…

I come from a people who…

I am sitting here at Springfield Clinic getting a bunch of allergy shots. 27 shots, 3 at a time, every 15 minutes (and on my birthday, even). What better time to post to my blog?

Who do you act like? In my work with estate clients, I get to hear about the legacy that came before them and the legacy they want to leave to their kids and grandkids. Those who came before us play a big part in who we are. Who do you act like in your family?

People say I act a lot like my granddad, Arthur Bitzer. He passed away when I was 26 years old. I can see the resemblance.

We were both very curious. When the nurse was in here a minute ago, she had the pulse oxygen thing on my finger. (how in the world does that thing work?) And I was breathing deeply to try to get it up to 100%. I did it! Once, when my grandad was in the hospital, he was moving his arms and legs to get his heart rate up to make the monitors change. Nurses ran in, only to find out he was doing it on purpose!

We want things to be efficient. In fact, we both, independently, used to do the same thing with the microwave. In order to save a few nanoseconds, we would cook something for 11 seconds instead of 10, or 2 minutes 22 seconds, instead of 2 minutes. Didn’t have to move the finger to another button that way.

We like to analyze things. For instance, if my grandad was watching a high school graduation, he would time how long it took to give out 5 diplomas. Then he would do the math and figure out how long it would take to get all 200 graduates through the line. I’ve been known to do that kind of thing myself.

My grandparents, Arthur and Marjorie Bitzer, played a big part in my legacy. They wanted to play a part in getting me started in my legal career, so years ago they paid my fee for the law school admission test, fee to apply to law school, and fee to apply for admission to the bar. They didn’t get to see me in private practice, since they both passed away in 1996 while I was clerking for an Illinois Supreme Court justice. (They never spent an anniversary apart, after being married 64 years). But on my desk at Edwards Group LLC, I have a glass box with my granddad’s initials on it, AMB. It used to sit on his desk at the car dealership that he owned in Salem, Illinois – Bitzer Auto Sales.

Anyway, who has made an impact on your life and legacy? How would you answer this question:

“I come from a people who…”

Can you speak the language?

Part of feeling connected to a family, school, part of the country, etc. is the language we use. Our family (both my extended family, as well as Michelle, Bailey, and I) has all kinds of sayings for all kinds of situations. Once a year there is a day where I can use one particular saying.

“Did you know that today is the only day of the year that gives a command?”
March 4th!

My dad said it for years and now I say it. What sayings does your family have? I have a bunch of our family’s sayings listed on my info page on Facebook. There are tons more I plan to add to facebook, but I can’t remember them all when I sit down to type them. Although when certain situations come up, I just come out with them, like my brain is hard wired. It is one of the joys of following a legacy from those who have gone before. That I can pass down stories and sayings from my parents and grandparents.

When things get messed up

This afternoon, I hosted a roomful of financial professionals for a webinar. Where we all face forward, listening to a voice through speakers sitting in some other state and looking at a screen with a powerpoint presentation. And it was really great. Great content and a great group of professionals I respect.

Then it happened. The webcast audio just went out. Then the video. What now? Well, I didn’t have any jokes prepared and no one wanted to watch Elmo in Grouchland (left over from Bailey’s visit to daddy’s office a week or so ago), so we all chatted, ate some cookies, then confirmed that the webinar was out because the presenter’s internet went out. A little more chatting, then everyone headed out, back to their offices.

So what do you do when things don’t go right?

I’m strung a little tight so I have been known to let my frustration level get a bit high. (See yesterday’s post on my leather chair.) My wife can tell you the story about how I walked out of Panera because they were out of bagels. Also walked out of Baker’s Square once because they refused to serve the pies in the case (instead were holding them for the holiday the next day).

But, anyway, today I was fine with it all. Disappointed, yes. But not over the top frustrated. I had my perspective today. My goal wasn’t to present a flawless webinar, but to get a chance to learn and collaborate with great professionals who care about the clients as much as I do. Some I have known for months, some for years. And today was just one more step in a journey I am taking with them to serve clients together.

Tomorrow I may walk out of another restaurant. But today, I am at peace.