When I went to law school, I knew that I wanted to become a tax lawyer. So I took all the tax courses I could, and after law school, I went to work in the tax department of the CPA firm of Coopers & Lybrand learning about estate taxes and retirement plans. This gave me a good grounding in the tax law and also the opportunity to get my CPA license. I felt these two things were critical to practicing as a trust and estate lawyer.
I started my trusts and estates law practice a few years later and realized I wanted to be different from other trust and estate lawyers. I wanted to be the best at my craft and I also wanted make a difference with people. I set out to create relationships with clients to provide a resource they could turn to when they need it most. Many people said that I wouldn’t be able to maintain that type of practice without doing real estate closings and litigation, but as time went on the practice was thriving and growing. I was busy and successful, but I wasn’t satisfied.
I had written and reviewed hundreds of trusts and knew the documents we created were state of the art, yet something was still missing. I felt that I wasn’t dealing with the real needs of the people I counseled. I wanted to help people in a meaningful way, address their deepest concerns, promote family harmony and pass on things that mattered most to them. I wasn’t getting to the heart of their families — the things that really mattered to them. I found that too often people were busy and failed to focus on what they have to be thankful for. In my experience, most people want their families to be intact and harmonious, and I had seen too many families torn apart arguing about the money or trinkets.
One day years later, I received a package in the mail with some of my Dad’s papers which my step-sister found as she was cleaning her basement. Among the paperwork, I came across a handwritten letter my Dad had written to his father. My Grandfather owned a restaurant in New York, and my Dad worked in the restaurant. My Dad was writing my Grandfather telling him that he had to leave home and the family because they argued so much. They must have resolved that conflict because my Dad didn’t leave, but the point is, I reflected on the impact that letter had on me. It made my Dad more human in my eyes and let me see another side of him I would never have seen.
You see, my Dad died when I was 11 years old, and maybe he didn’t show that side of himself because he thought I was too young to understand. I really didn’t get to know my Dad as an adult. We never had those father/son talks – we didn’t have time – I wish we would have. From what I remember, he was a good man with a big heart inside, but he wasn’t always sensitive and open on the outside.
And as I thought about the thousands of estate plans I had done over the years, I realized that my clients had omitted the same thing that my Dad had. In other words, no one ever asked, “If you had the opportunity to share your dreams, visions and wisdom with your son or daughter, what would you say?” From what I found out about him later, I think my Dad would have wanted to share his wisdom, insights and thoughts about life in general. His hopes and dreams for my brother and me…how much he cared about us. As I read through his papers, I realized I would give anything to read his shared wisdom, and his thoughts about the material things he was able to leave me. As those thoughts came over me, I realized that that was the kind of lawyer I wanted to be.
I understand that many people are fearful of doing estate or exit planning and would rather not discuss it or just sign documents and put them in a drawer. They don’t come in expecting this type of Legacy conversation. Some have found out there is more to this process than they originally thought. I still work with those that want to put the documents in a drawer and forget about it, but we’ve created a process to provide three ways to do what my father never did. Here are the three options we developed:
We can sit down with you, record a 30-minute conversation and discuss the things that are important to you and your loved ones. In 30 minutes, with no trouble or fuss, we can leave a treasure for your loved ones that they will cherish as I do my Dad’s papers.
We have the capability to put your words into your estate plan documents so that your voice, the wisdom or life lessons you want to impart will actually become part of the trust. Every time something comes from the trustee, it will be your voice coming from a human perspective.
We can help you keep the family harmonious and talking about your family Legacy and vision as it benefits future generations. Rather than leave a family of empty lives, you can leave a family of successful and fulfilled lives. We can create a safe place to learn about money, to learn about what this means in your family and help create successful life stories. We can help you arrange your affairs so that the family cannot destroy the family fortune, while still providing benefits to others. The family can learn life’s lessons, but in a setting where the family is learning together and seeing the good things they can do.
This transformation helped us create systems and processes to help families to connect with a group of caring advisors who understand their vision and create the Ultimate Legacy℠ that will truly last for generations. The result was the creation of The Stuart Legacy Alliance, LLC, The Ultimate Legacy℠ and Lifespanworks® programs along with the other programs, support and training we provide for clients and the caring alliance of advisors with whom we work. To find out more, make an appointment today, or simply give us a call at 847-398-7901!