The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) was created as part of the $2 trillion stimulus package known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act. This program provides $349,000,000 in federally backed loans to businesses to meet financial operational costs like payroll, mortgage interest payments, rent, and utility payments as an incentive to encourage businesses to retain employees during this pandemic.
Small businesses are struggling economically in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many businesses have closed as a result of shelter-in-place orders, and even in states less severely affected by the virus, many non-essential businesses have closed. Further, companies that have remained open are dealing with the fallout stemming from the public’s fear of the spread of the disease. Due to the volatility of the stock market, home builders and others in the construction industry may experience a slowdown in customers seeking to build new homes or renovate as a result of their shrinking investment accounts. Likewise, many other industries are suffering from curtailed discretionary spending and decreased consumer confidence. Employees have also been affected, with businesses forced into schedule reductions, pay cuts and layoffs due to virus-related slowdowns, as well as mandatory or voluntary closures.
From case law requiring notice for contingent beneficiaries to new federal rules applicable to joint employers, we have recently seen some significant developments in estate planning and business law. To ensure that you stay abreast of these legal changes, we’ve highlighted a few noteworthy developments and analyzed how they may impact your estate planning and business law practice.
This article has been updated to reflect the U.S. Treasury announcement on 3/20. Readers should verify that no further changes have been made to the filing and payment deadlines.
The 2020 tax season is underway, but millions of Americans have yet to start preparing their tax returns. Earlier this week, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin offered taxpayers a 90-day reprieve on paying their income taxes. As of Friday, March 20, the deadline to file tax returns has also been extended by three months. Taxpayers will now have until July 15th to file and pay their 2019 income taxes (up to $1 million). During this time, filers will not incur interest on unpaid taxes or be subject to tax filing penalties. According to Wealth Management, “this reprieve amount would also likely apply to small businesses and pass-through entities. Corporate filers, on the other hand, would get the same length of time to pay amounts due on up to $10 million in taxes owed.” As details continue to be hammered out, tax advisors and estate planning attorneys should expect questions from clients as the new tax filing deadline approaches.
The Quarterly—WealthCounsel’s legal magazine for estate planning and business law attorneys—2020 winter issue is here! This issue focuses on trust administration—a logical and complementary service to add to any estate planning practice. Full of informative articles, this issue offers practical insights for estate planning attorneys either already administering trusts or wishing to expand the scope of their practice to include trust administration.
By Libby Banks, The Law Office of Libby Banks, PLLC
In the course of developing my estate planning practice, I’ve realized that the majority of my clients are women. I also have found that when a married couple comes to see me, the wife is typically the driver of the meeting. As both a woman and an estate planning attorney, I have developed some ideas about why women are so often the initiators of the estate planning process and what they are looking for from us as estate planners.
From no-contest clauses in Wyoming, to charitable deduction reporting to the IRS, to SALT deductions in New Jersey, there are a variety of recent developments in estate planning and business law. To help you stay abreast of current developments, here are a few highlights.
Revocable living trusts are an increasingly popular estate planning tool for married couples. They can be extremely useful for incapacity planning, probate avoidance (including the ability to avoid probate in other states so long as real estate in another state has been properly transferred to the revocable living trust), asset protection, and privacy. Depending on the married couple’s goals and circumstances, an estate plan can include either a joint revocable trust or separate trusts for each spouse. Both options offer advantages and disadvantages. Listed below are several client scenarios that explore whether a joint trust or individual trusts are better.
Many of our clients live in an increasingly mobile world, owning property or assets in multiple countries, or maintaining dual citizenship. They may also be United States (US) expatriates or a US person married to a non-citizen spouse. The estate planning process for these clients is likely to be more complex because each country has different laws or statutes regarding wills, trusts, and taxes. As a result, it is imperative that estate planning practitioners have a basic knowledge of the applicable US and foreign laws and rules, as well as commonly used estate planning strategies. It is not enough to assume that a will or trust created in the US will be honored in another country.
Symposium is a one-of-a-kind gathering of the finest minds in estate planning and business law. Featuring top-notch and practical education from leading experts in trusts and estates, unparalleled (and unforgettable) networking opportunities, and modern techniques for growing your practice, Symposium has one goal in mind: helping you achieve the practice you want.
The SECURE Act, which stands for “Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement” Act, was signed into law at the end of 2019. The Act takes small but impactful steps towards addressing the country’s retirement crisis by incentivizing small business owners to sponsor retirement plans for their employees. It has also provided an excellent window of opportunity for practitioners to reach out to their small business clients in light of the new legislation. Below are four significant upgrades made by the Act that you should consider sharing with your business owner clients.
From the passage of the long-expected SECURE Act to the establishment of paid leave for federal workers, we have recently seen some significant developments in estate planning and business law. To ensure that you stay abreast of these legal changes, we’ve highlighted four noteworthy developments and analyzed how they may impact your estate planning and business law practice.
Written by: Sterling Miller, JD
It’s difficult to be part of any business and not hear about “risk.” It’s everywhere. If risk were a woman, it would be the Hollywood “It Girl” of 2019. Put another way, risk is the new black. It’s on the lips of every CEO, CFO, and board member, as it should be. And, anything that is important to the board and the C-Suite, is important to the Legal Department. In fact, over the past five or so years, one of the key responsibilities businesses are placing on in-house lawyers is spotting and managing risk. The business wants its in-house lawyers to be the ones who sniff through virtually every situation looking for risk (legal or otherwise). What this means is that, more and more, in-house counsel need to be masters of the company’s business operations and strategy (both short and long term), because you cannot successfully spot and manage risk unless you understand how the company operates and where it wants to go.
Congratulations! You’ve created a comprehensive estate plan for your client. Now that all documents are signed and handed over to the client, does that mark the end of an estate planner’s job? According to the book Estate Planning for the Post-Transition Period, the majority of estate plans that fail do so because of non-legal/non-technical aspects. These errors have nothing to do with your perfectly drafted estate plan. Rather, they are issues related to lack of communication and inaction on the part of your clients’ family. Today, the most common reasons for failure are:
According to the American Bar Association (ABA), drafting is a “mission-critical function” for all law offices. Your legal documents should capture your practice’s intellectual capital and set it apart from other competitors. While drafting methods have remained relatively unchanged for decades, the increasingly hyper-competitive legal market has forced attorneys to seek out and adopt new legal technologies to streamline their drafting processes.
On December 20, 2019, President Trump signed the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act (SECURE Act). The SECURE Act, which is effective January 1, 2020, is the most impactful retirement legislation of the past decade.
From sweeping legislative changes to decisive judicial decisions—we’ve seen some impactful developments in estate planning and business law this year. To ensure that you close out the year successfully, we’ve highlighted six noteworthy developments of 2019 and analyzed how they may impact your law practice.
The end of the year is a great time to set goals for the coming year, reach out to clients, thank referral sources, invest in new tech (like automated drafting software), and conduct some housekeeping in your practice. To ensure you set your practice up for a successful new year, below are 11 year-end planning tips to consider.
Adding customized clauses and provisions to a legal document is a great way to tailor a document to a client’s specific goals and circumstances. However, creating a new provision or tailoring an existing provision for a new client can be time-consuming, not to mention risky. To cut down on time and reduce the inherent dangers of simply editing an existing document, attorneys often make the mistake of using boilerplate provisions.
For many estate planning clients, retirement assets will be the largest asset they own at their death. Passing retirement accounts to intended beneficiaries requires special knowledge and careful planning.
From long-awaited guidance on the tax treatment of cryptocurrency to the banning of forced arbitration agreements for workers in California—we’ve recently seen some impactful developments in estate planning and business law. To ensure that you stay abreast of these legal changes, we’ve highlighted five noteworthy developments and analyzed how they may impact your estate planning and business law practice.
When consumers experience a “breach” of certain categories of information, state laws have required organizations to notify those affected and, in some instances, to also notify state agencies, consumer reporting agencies, and the media. A growing number of states—including California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Texas, and, most recently, New York—have gone a step further, requiring organizations to develop and implement “reasonable safeguards” to secure the personal information they collect and use.
Decanting can be a great way to add flexibility to irrevocable trusts. Beyond correcting scrivener’s errors, resolving ambiguities, or clarifying trust language, decanting allows trustees to change some provisions of an irrevocable trust by pouring the assets into a new trust with modified terms.
When planning for married couples are joint trusts more advantageous or are separate trusts the way to go? Many married couples have their assets so intertwined that separate individual trusts might not be the best estate planning tool for them. However, joint trusts often don’t provide the same level of flexibility as separate trusts. A Survivor’s Trust, on the other hand, provides the surviving spouse with the same kind of versatility at first death that he or she would have had if the couple had used separate trusts at the outset.
From sweeping employee classifications changes in California to uncertainties regarding the future of New Jersey’s Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act—we’ve seen some impactful developments in estate planning and business law. To ensure that you stay abreast of these legal changes, we’ve highlighted five noteworthy developments and analyzed how they may impact your estate planning and business law practice.
You help your clients plan for the unexpected, but have you done the same for your law firm? To ensure that your law firm stays healthy and profitable during a disruptive event (whether it’s a recession, unexpected health event, or natural disaster), attorneys should make sure they have a well thought out contingency plan for their business.
There are many reasons why an attorney should think about adding additional practice areas to their law firm offerings—it helps improve your client experience, having multiple streams of income protects your business from market volatility, and it increases your bottom line! However, adding another practice area can be a big ask for you, your office staff, and your budget.
Estate Planning Awareness Week, October 21-27, 2019, is just around the corner. With a reported 60% of all adults not having an estate plan, now is the perfect time to educate your community why comprehensive estate planning is critical—and why you’re the perfect professional for the job!
The SECURE Act (“Act”) passed the House on May 23, 2019, with overwhelming bipartisan support (417-3), and the same was expected to occur in the Senate. Following Congress’ August recess, however, the bill remains stalled in the Senate, with some sources questioning whether it will ever become law. This update will provide a brief overview of key provisions of H.R. 1994 – the version of the Act approved by the House and received by the Senate on June 3, 2019 – and will discuss the provisions said to be causing the holdup in the Senate.
Fiduciaries can hold a lot of power when it comes to the successful execution of one’s estate plan—they make crucial financial decisions, act as advocates for a client’s wishes, make sure an estate’s debts are settled, and ensure that each beneficiary gets what they were intended to receive. As such, helping clients choose the right individual to carry out these duties can be the difference between successfully carrying out a client’s wishes and complete calamity.
A bankruptcy attorney sues Square, Inc. for discrimination; a Florida law firm learns an expensive lesson on negligent drafting—last month saw a few cases offering cautionary tales. So you can stay abreast of these legal developments, we’ve highlighted three recent cases and analyzed how they may impact your estate planning and business law practice.
Recession indicators, such as the recent inversion of the yield curve (which has accurately predicted all U.S. recessions in the last 60 years) are pointing towards a possible recession. With the topic garnering so much public attention, these fears of an impending national recession could become a self-fulfilling prophecy—particularly if enough people believe it’s going to happen and subsequently pull back their investments and slow their spending.
Symposium is the nation’s leading estate and business planning conference. This year, Symposium offered over 50 learning sessions with 5 learning tracks, 45 speakers, our new Paraprofessional Symposium, and explored some exciting new services and products. If you weren't able to attend, check out what you missed in the highlights below!
When it comes to your law firm’s success, optimizing workflow processes (like drafting) is imperative. According to the American Bar Association, using automated document assembly software is the most efficient and accurate way to draft your clients’ legal documents. Not only does a good drafting system automate the drafting process but it should also be continuously updated and improved so it reflects current best practices, laws, and legal strategies.
As busy practitioners, it’s hard to juggle it all: meet with clients; manage and grow busy law practices; stay on top of current developments in our field; satisfy our CLE requirements; and find time for self-care, family, and friends. Luckily, WealthCounsel has a staff of industry experts whose roles are dedicated to making sure our members are supported with educational opportunities and current development updates, enabling you to focus on practicing law and living your life.
A Peer Group is an advisory group specific to your business and career. WealthCounsel’s Peer Groups are tailored to meet your needs as an estate planning attorney by focusing on developing your business plan, growing your client base, optimizing your billable hours, and showing you how to utilize technology for high-performance results.
Here are the four ways our Peer Groups can help your practice:
According to the Pew Research Center, one-in-three American workers are millennials—making them the largest generation in the US workforce. Today, millennials range in age from 23 to 38. Compared to previous generations, millennials are more ethnically and racially diverse; they are marrying later in life if at all; they are better educated with millennial women completing their bachelor’s degree in greater numbers than men; and, they have less wealth and more debt than baby boomers did at the same age.
The charities we’ve chosen to work with this year pursue causes close to our heart—building strong communities, empowering individuals using technology, promoting education, and accessible legal services. As a company, these beliefs are what guide us in not only how we serve our members, but also how we strive to serve our greater communities through WealthCounsel Stands.
There have been significant legal developments in recent months—from two rare Supreme Court cases in our practice area to an uptick in litigation over no-contest clauses—we’re here to help you grapple with and learn from these cases. Read our break down of just a few of the most impactful developments so far this year.
On June 21, 2019, the US Supreme Court unanimously ruled in North Carolina Department of Revenue v. Kaestner 1992 Family Trust, No. 18-457, 2019 WL 2552488 (U.S. June 21, 2019) that the presence of in-state beneficiaries alone does not permit a state to tax trust income that has not been distributed to the beneficiaries where the beneficiaries have (1) no right to demand the income and (2) no guarantee that they would eventually receive the income from the trust. Justice Sotomayor delivered the opinion of the Court; Justice Alito, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Gorsuch, filed a concurring opinion.
The charities we’ve chosen to work with this year pursue causes close to our heart—building strong communities, empowering individuals using technology, promoting education, and accessible legal services. As a company, these beliefs are what guide us in not only how we serve our members, but also how we strive to serve our greater communities through WealthCounsel Stands.
Business planning and estate planning often go hand in hand. Businesses started by parents are frequently passed down to their children, and in the absence of adequate forethought, the new relationships that are formed can quickly disintegrate, causing damage to both the siblings’ personal bond and to the business.
Attorneys who work in trust administration know that revenue streams can be volatile—up one month and down the next. Not only does unreliable cash flow make running a practice stressful, but it can also hinder a firm’s’ long-term growth. So, how does one create a profitable, yet steady, revenue stream in trust administration? One attorney has some advice. Jessica Pannell, JD, of JM Law, PLLC in McLean, Virginia, has been sharing her practice’s challenges and successes in trust administration with colleagues all over the nation.
Last month, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced it would be capping, and in some cases, lowering the fines for HIPAA violations. HHS released a Notification of Enforcement Discretion Regarding HIPAA Civil Money Penalties describing the new tier structure. According to HHS the new structure better reflects a covered entity’s “level of culpability.” Going forward, HHS will now use annual limits based on the four culpability levels of whether an organization has no knowledge, reasonable cause, willfully neglected and corrected, or willfully neglected without correcting HIPAA violations.
On May 23, 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 1994, also known as the SECURE Act, by a vote of 417 to 3. The SECURE Act is now headed to the Senate, where a nearly identical bill (the Retirement Enhancement Savings Act, aka RESA) is pending. Due to its overwhelming bipartisan support, experts believe the SECURE Act, perhaps with minor adjustments made in the Senate, will easily become law.
According to a US Census Bureau report, couples in which one or both spouses are foreign-born account for 20% of all marriages in the United States. Of these foreign-born spouses, approximately 60% are naturalized and 40% are noncitizens. The Bureau links this trend to both the growth of the US immigrant population and the increased number of Americans traveling and living abroad. This demographic faces unique estate and tax planning issues.
The United States Supreme Court rarely addresses trusts and estates issues. The purview of the states, issues arising in intergenerational wealth transfers, are generally outside federal jurisdiction. To reach the U.S. Supreme Court, trusts and estates cases typically involve federal preemption or the constitutionality of a state’s law; the latter has brought the most recent trusts and estates case before the Court.
The number one struggle reported by attorneys is the lack of a work-life balance. Whether an attorney is pulling long hours out of necessity, trying to meet their firm’s billing hour requirements, or simply because they enjoy their work, overworking isn’t helpful or healthy. On the contrary, there are numerous studies that show an increased in work hours doesn’t mean an increase in productivity or even profitability.
For many attorneys marketing is seen as a necessary evil. Popular or not, strategic marketing is crucial to the success of any business. It is a key tool in establishing your business’ identity within your community. It helps maximize revenue potential by generating new leads. Marketing also builds trust, converts leads to clients, and helps establish fruitful, lifelong relationships.
As a company dedicated to helping attorneys understand and utilize the law to better the lives of their clients and larger communities, we believe that all individuals, regardless of wealth, should have an equal opportunity to protections under the law and to legal representation.
In an article by Professor Douglas A. Kahn published by the American Bar Association, Mr. Kahn contends that the increase in experiential learning in law schools is leading to a decrease in law student enrollment in core doctrinal classes, such as tax courses. According to Professor Kahn, only one-third of the students who recently graduated from Michigan Law School took a tax class, and less than 10% of those students took either partnership or corporate taxation. Sadly, the situation at Michigan Law School is not unique.
Don't miss out on this amazing opportunity to learn, network, and grow your practice. Visit our website to register, read the full agenda, and choose the symposium pass that works best for your budget. See you in Boston this July!
This past tax year has been one for the books. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) has brought about sweeping tax reform, the likes of which we’ve not seen in decades. Despite numerous articles on how to anticipate these changes, taxpayers and professionals alike are still reeling from how the 2018 tax season played out.
Advisors should not take too long to catch their breath, though. Before you know it, clients will call you, asking how they can maximize their tax savings for 2019. Before you advise these clients, check out these five takeaways from this past tax season.
There are many reasons an estate planning attorney should consider expanding their legal practice to include business planning. According to the Census Bureau, there were 32 million businesses owners in the US last year. So, chances are that you probably already have clients who have business planning needs. Additionally, since many business owners are still reeling from the changes brought on by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, they'll be looking to legal professionals for advice on redeveloping their business planning strategies.
Paraprofessionals have always been the backbone of any successful law practice. To help them continue to be their firm's greatest asset, WealthCounsel is launching its inaugural Paraprofessional Symposium where paralegals can come to learn from industry leaders about the latest tips and tricks to streamline workflow processes, enhance customer service, and implement smart technology.
If you're a paraprofessional and want to grow your professional skills by coming to our Paraprofessional Symposium in Boston, we've written a letter for you to give to your boss explaining how Symposium will benefit you and your law firm. All you have to do copy and paste the letter into your own Word document and fill in your own information in the brackets below. Then print or email the letter to your boss. Don't forget to let them know that alongside our Paraprofessional Symposium, we're also hosting Symposium 2019 for estate and business planning attorneys, so they can come along, too.
In the practice of law, paraprofessionals are indispensable. They can, and often do, assist attorneys with a myriad of tasks—from marketing to case preparation, and anything in-between. Today a paralegal must be a consummate juggler, proofreader, planner, and organizer. Essentially, they must do whatever it takes to help a law firm run smoothly.
When it comes to helping clients who may be the victim of undue influence, it can be difficult, if not seemingly impossible, to recognize the signs of its existence. This is mostly because undue influence is a process rather than a single event, and one that occurs in private between the influencer and influenced
Having a successful legal practice has nothing to do with chance. When it comes to running a practice, attorneys often focus too much on working in their business rather than on their business. What do we mean by this? When you’re working in your business, you are focused on clients’ legal matters and wearing your attorney hat. Working on your business, you’re focused on entrepreneurial activities and wearing your business owner hat. Many attorneys struggle with this balancing act. And, when we forget to work on our business, then practice growth can stagnate and client satisfaction can erode.
To face the mounting challenges of today—like market unpredictability, inefficiency, and competition with other attorneys and non-traditional legal service providers—working on your law firm and how it will address these issues is paramount. While this may seem like a daunting task, the answer might well be a simple one: business diversification. By diversifying your business offerings to include more than one legal service, attorneys can protect their business from an unstable/unpredictable market, add value to their practice, and increase their competitive edge.
In estate planning, tax issues are pervasive, and mitigating their effect on a client’s estate is a major component of an estate planner’s job. In order to effectively spot issues and provide more comprehensive advice, estate planners need at least a basic understanding of tax concepts. Having knowledge of tax issues may be the difference between representing a client entirely “in house” and losing the client altogether by referring them to the tax attorney or CPA down the street.
Let’s begin with three important foundational tax concepts—income tax basis, transfer basis, and stepped-up basis. Understanding these terms is key to determining any income tax consequences on the sale or transfer of the asset.
When Congress enacted tax reform in 2017, the new tax law permanently lowered the tax rate for corporations from 35% to 21%. To make sure that other business owners weren’t left behind, Congress provided a new deduction—Section 199A—for sole proprietors and owners of pass-through businesses. Section 199A offers eligible business owners a lower effective tax rate by allowing for a deduction of up to 20% on qualified business income (QBI) for tax years 2018 - 2025. Due to a lack of initial guidance, there has been much difficulty and speculation regarding how this deduction works.
Article originally published in the Quarterly V12-I2, 2018. Author: Patrick Carlson, JD, LLM. Get all your business and estate planning information by becoming a Quarterly subscriber.
Sadly, many attorneys do not approach their client development efforts with an eye towards creating lifetime value. When you transition your mindset, it can have far-reaching – and valuable – implications for how to approach your marketing efforts, initial intake, client service, and the cultivation of additional legal service opportunities with those clients.
With the ability to learn almost anything and buy whatever you want at your fingertips, it’s hard to fathom that the internet’s role in our daily lives will diminish. On the contrary, more and more consumers are turning to the internet to shop for goods and research the best service provider. To survive the times, many law firms are turning to the power of the virtual world to attract more clients and run more efficiently.
Unlike a traditional firm, virtual firms have much smaller start-up costs. In ditching the
We believe legacy-building isn’t just for an elite few—it’s for everyone. Through the charitable arm of WealthCounsel, WealthCounsel Stands, we hope to empower local communities to create their own legacies by creating a lasting impact that extends beyond document drafting.
A key element of estate planning is to remember that things change. Assets today might not be available down the road. At the same time, assets might grow and require money to be moved around or reallocated when a spouse passes away.
The best estate planning strategies offer flexibility so that loved ones can analyze situations and make decisions when someone passes away. Rather than adhering to stiff plans with complex trust structures, estate planners can add flexibility and achieve significant tax advantages through the use of qualified disclaimers.
Learn how to boost your practice’s revenue
Now that 2018 has come to a close and you're looking over your financials for the year, did your practice make as much money as you wanted it to? If you want to bolster your revenue stream in 2019, make plans now to attend an Estate Planning Essentials event near you.
Estate planning is the perfect addition to your practice’s service offerings and here’s why:
Holidays are a wonderful time to enjoy family traditions and catch-up with relatives over the dinner table. With family already on their minds, December is a perfect time to remind those within your community that while they might be able to avoid family drama this year by staying at home, their estate plan might not be as lucky.
In order to help individuals navigate family dynamics and protect their estate plans, attorneys need to make sure they are aware of all potential issues. This means educating oneself on the issues, as well as creating a process by which a client is able to openly and honestly discuss these emotionally-charged topics.
The holiday season may be the busiest time of the year for estate planners. With family on their minds, your clients may be reaching out to you for last-minute estate plan changes, or to make good on a promise to update their estate plan. It’s also the perfect opportunity to make sure your clients’ estate plans are designed to take advantage of current tax law and proposed regulations. Here are three year-end strategies (beyond the most common strategies) to help you meet your clients’ needs.
There are many reasons to help clients avoid probate—it’s costly and time-consuming, not to mention it has the potential to make a public spectacle of a very private matter. More often than not, probate disputes can arise in response to unequal treatment of siblings and other close family members in an individual’s estate plan. Since the loss of a loved one already spikes heightened emotions, adding the uncertainty of what their loved one’s estate was worth, who is playing what role in the administration of their will, and who inheriting what assets can easily aggravate old family divisions, provoking costly family feuds in probate court.
Much of life follows the 80/20 rule. Also known as the Pareto Principle (named for the Italian economist who devised it), this formula calculates that 20% of your conversations are responsible for 80% of the profitability of the relationship. That holds true whether it’s business or personal.
“Sonny, it’s business. Not personal.”
Most of us remember The Godfather and that classic piece of counsel from Tom Hagen to the hot-headed Sonny. While separating “business” from “personal” may have been a worthy approach for the Corleones, estate planning professionals know otherwise.
Helping clients plan for life’s unexpected events—whether it’s welcoming a new family member, coming into an inheritance, or dealing with an illness—is at the heart of what estate planners do. As we recognize October as Breast Cancer Awareness month, it’s a great opportunity to remind ourselves how we can continue to help our clients plan for the curve balls that life throws us.
The traditional hourly billing method has long been a contentious topic among attorneys. But, with the increasing demand for better cost predictability and transparency, does this billing method need a refresh or should it be ditched for other billing strategies?
Thanks to advances in technology, working virtually has become a reality for many small practices and solo attorneys. Whether working from a home office, coworking space, or hotel room, many attorneys are embracing technology and ditching the traditional law office space for a completely web-based one. This style of working can have many benefits, such as: an increase in productivity, a more attainable work-life balance, and the ability to target clients in an ever-expanding mobile world. But, it can have it drawbacks, too.
With the right technology and business plan, any attorney can take their practice virtual. The question becomes: Is it right for you?
Trust fund kid: the term conjures up images of entitlement, snobbery, and pastel golf shirts. Daddy’s spoiled little brats account for only a little more than 1% of the U.S. population (there’s that maligned 1% again). When compared to the approximately 22% of Americans who inherited money, those who did so via a trust fund are an especially small minority.
Tolstoy said, “all happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Since families and estates are so intertwined, Tolstoy’s maxim holds true in some degree for estate planning purposes. When planning for the distribution of their assets, no one wants to feel as if they’re involved in some type of legal mass production—being processed through an uncaring machine. Would you?
Trusts are technical legal instruments that require a keen eye and foresight on the part of the attorney drafting them. Should an estate planner fail to make certain considerations, not only can they undermine their practice’s integrity but also jeopardize a beneficiary's financial security. To avoid falling victim to their snare, below are a few common mistakes to avoid when drafting trusts for minors.
Ask any estate planning attorney—what is the most important thing that we need to know after someone dies? Their answer: we need to know the assets! This includes knowing what their assets are, who has legal authority over the assets, what the values are, and who will receive these assets.
Summer vacation is almost over and as we get back into work mode, it’s a good time to refresh your memory and refocus your professional goals. There’s no better way to do this than to join the WealthCounsel community. Not only will you be a part of a nationwide community of professional attorneys, but you’ll also have access to unrivaled practice support and, of course, our intelligent document drafting software.
Running your own legal practice can be daunting for any attorney, but it can be especially difficult for new and transitioning estate planners. This may be due, in part, to the knowledge gap between what attorneys learn in law school and what they need to know in order to run a law practice. To fill these gaps, it’s important to educate oneself on what the current best practices are (so they can be implemented), as well as what the common pitfalls are (so they can be avoided). Here are some basic tips for fresh-faced law graduates or transitioning attorneys looking to build their own estate planning practice.
The number one reason that estate plans fail is because they are outdated.
As attorneys, we know that the law and our clients’ lives are constantly changing, and our ability to solve client problems is better when we regularly monitor, maintain, and adjust estate plans. An effective plan goes beyond documents and includes a thorough understanding of the assets owned, family relationships, client’s wishes, and health and personal circumstances of the client and their beneficiaries.
Estate plans are only effective when they accurately reflect your clients’ circumstances, as well as current state and federal tax law. Neglected estate plans not only jeopardize your clients’ estate planning wishes but may also negatively impact their loved ones, not to mention themselves. The unintended consequences of an outdated estate plan can result in issues such as, unintended income and/or estate tax consequences; disqualify a special needs beneficiary from receiving benefits; increased fees and costs associated with settling an estate; leaving less for your clients’ spouse and heirs; forcing loved ones into court; disinheriting desired beneficiaries or including unintended beneficiaries.
Once you decide to start an estate planning practice or expand your existing practice into estate planning, you need to make the time and effort to learn the basics, including vocabulary, strategies, and documents. Without a basic understanding of these estate planning principles, you’ll struggle to present your value to potential clients and implement estate plans for the clients you do win.
When it comes to practicing law, time is money and time saved is not only money saved, but also potentially earned. In order to effectively run a law practice, attorneys must learn how to streamline legal processes if they are going to have enough time to promote their services, stay on top of continuing legal education requirements, grow their practices, and have enough time to spend with friends, family and pursuing personal hobbies.
It’s amazing how technology has been transforming the estate planning industry. What was once a maze of paperwork is now mostly digitized, with organized, easy-to-use online files. If you’re curious about which legal technologies can help you the most as an estate planning attorney, this blog is for you.
When it comes to transferring wealth to younger generations, not all beneficiaries are responsible enough or prepared to handle a large inheritance. This is where incentive trust provisions come in. They can be used to discourage bad behavior and motivate beneficiaries to make responsible life choices, so that they are ultimately better prepared to handle their inheritance.
Thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), same-sex marriages now enjoy the same legal rights as heterosexual marriages in the United States. However, as same-sex couples still face unique estate planning issues, attorneys should be wary of assuming they can plan for them in the same way as their heterosexual counterparts.
Deciding between joint and separate trusts for married couples has been a conundrum within the estate planning community for a long time. While many attorneys swear by one trust over the other, there are many factors—such as, the state in which the couple resides, the total of their marital estate, and the couple’s relationship itself—that contribute to the decision of which trust is more suitable.
Historically, joint trusts have been popular among married couples due to their cheaper start-up costs, ease of management, and the fact that a joint trust reflects the traditional view of a marital estate as a singular unit. However, separate trusts, have some great (and often superior) benefits for a married couple in regards to asset protection, management flexibility, and cost savings after the death of the first spouse.
To aid in this decision process, we've compared the strength and weaknesses of each trust type for various situations. The check mark signifies which trust is the better option for that category.
Newlyweds have a lot on their plate. With all the pre and post wedding activities and acclimatizing to married life, it’s no wonder that estate planning is often a low priority for newlyweds. As estate planners, we know that marriage signifies a major lifetime event, which requires the creation of a new estate plan, or updates to an existing one. In order to capture the attention of the newlywed demographic, it’s crucial to create a sense of urgency around your service offerings.
Potential clients are most often lost due to their own mental friction—agonizing over something until it is utterly forgotten. Urgency is an important conversation tool in marketing, where trigger words and phrases (act fast, limited time only, buy now, etc.) compel a consumer to suspend caution and act quickly. Estate planners can capitalize on this tactic by creating this sense of urgency both within how they discuss and promote their services.
Millennials are estate plannings’ next major demographic. However, to acquire them as clients, estate planners must overcome several hurdles. The biggest obstacles attorneys face are the misconception that estate planning is only for older/wealthier individuals, and the wariness millennials have of spending money on things they deem unnecessary.
In order to convince millennials they should be financially prioritizing estate planning, it’s important to educate them why an estate plan is not only a worthwhile investment, but that it’s fundamentally necessary for the future well being of their families. Below are some basic talking points for engaging millennials.
Generational differences play a big part in the construction of estate planning strategies, as well as how attorneys should communicate the importance of those strategies to potential clients. In regards to younger generations, much has already been said about Millennials. But, quietly emerging into the marketplace is another demographic—Generation Z. If estate planners are going to continue to evolve their practices in terms of marketing their services to potential clients, then learning about this generation is key.
Law itself is a demanding industry. It requires practitioners to constantly keep abreast with, and adapt to, legislative changes. It demands a keen eye with an attention to detail, as well as the ability to see how strategic plans fit within clients larger estate planning goals. Unlike other businesses, attorneys have strict advertising ethical guidelines to adhere to, hampering their ability to advocate for their services and compete with cheaper do-it-yourself legal solutions.
May is graduation month. This is a time when many of your clients may be celebrating their children’s academic achievements, and even getting ready to send them off to college. During this hectic and emotionally tumultuous time, parents may be all-consumed with helping prepare their soon-to-be college student for the next phase, causing them to overlook important estate planning matters.
This is where you—the estate planner—come in. Now, is the perfect time to help remind your clients that there are a few important things they should add to their to-do list as they get ready to send their kids off to college.
When it comes to practicing law, mistakes can and do happen. Despite our best efforts, they can sneak into even the most thoroughly reviewed document or estate plan. Most clients can forgive the occasional error–attorneys are human after all. However, when it comes to big mistakes, especially those that cost clients money or don't meet their estate plan goals, can result in ruined client relationships and even negatively impact your practice's integrity.
Good news for the world of philanthropy: charitable giving is not dead. With the recent changes to the tax code, it’s an appropriate time for estate planning professionals to revisit charitable giving with a view toward identifying these new opportunities and assessing how a charitable giving plan works within the broader estate planning strategy.
Nonprofits have always been regarded as important social safety nets, providing for individual and community needs that are not met by the US government. It’s no wonder charitable giving has been steadily increasing since the Great Recession. According to Giving USA, the combined donations of individuals, foundations, and corporations in 2016 exceeded $390 billion.
It’s highly likely your clients have already donated to charities and may wish to incorporate charitable giving into their estate planning legacy. Luckily, with some legal know-how and the proper resources, any estate planner can easily add charitable planning into their practice.
Crafting lasting legacies is what estate planning is all about. At WealthCounsel, we help attorneys draft legacies to have a steadfast, positive impact on their clients and their clients’ loved ones. But legacies aren’t just legal papers dictating the transfer of assets. At their root, they are the means by which we pass on our stories and take care of our families.
Every courageous attorney deciding to open their own practice will eventually find they are no longer just an attorney but also a business owner. While this career choice can be as exhilarating as it can be lucrative, it can also feel downright impossible at times. When it comes to wearing more than one hat, solo practitioners may find that they struggle with the constant balancing act of running a small business and practicing law.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, millennials are currently the largest living generation, surpassing baby boomers, and accounting for more than a quarter of the U.S. population. As they have become the most valuable demographic, estate planners need to learn how to tap into this new market if their businesses are to evolve. Understanding who millennials are and what they value should be the priority in any estate planners marketing efforts.
Law firms are constantly looking for ways to maximize efficiency without sacrificing quality and
paralegals have always been instrumental in helping attorneys meet these needs. This short article
discusses how Wealth Docx is not only a great resource for attorneys but how it is also a powerful tool for
Whether as a friendly companion or a fully-fledged family member, pets have become an intrinsic component to many households. According to the American Pet Products Association, 67% of American families own a pet today. Not only is pet ownership up from 56% in 1988, but Americans are also spending significantly more on their pets. In 2016, the pet industry raked in roughly $66 billion in pet-loving profits, a 74% increase from 2006. An explanation for this spending increase could be because most pet owners﹘about 95%﹘consider their pets to be part of the family.
It’s a wonder then, why the estate planning field often overlooks pets. While pet trusts can claim a small fraction of the pet industry profits, only about 12% of cat and dog owners make financial stipulations for their pets in their estate plans. This underutilized market has significant business potential for estate planning attorneys and provides an opportunity to serve clients better.
Many legal practices rely on a patchwork of different legal software solutions to run their business – one for practice management and another for document prep. However, when your systems don’t talk to one another and you have to re-enter client information, time can be lost and accuracy jeopardized.
H.R.1 provides an opportunity for estate planning attorneys to capitalize on the new rules for tax exemptions. This article highlights some of the most important changes and provide strategies for maximizing your clients’ legacies.
One-size-fits-all is over. Want a week's worth of customized menus for your picky eaters or reading list based on your preferences? There's an app for that. From technology to consumer products to services, today's consumers have a wider array of individualized options than ever.
Round Up of Promising Legal Technology that Could Transform the Practice of Estate Planning Law - Part 3
From artificial intelligence and encryption apps to intuitive software, estate planning attorneys should be excited about what technology will be able to offer their practice of law. We’ve tackled a few top trends in Parts 1 and 2. Now let's discuss two more must-have technologies for the tech-savvy estate planning lawyer.
Whether plagued by poor reviews or buried in SEO obscurity, many small law firms and solo practitioners need a marketing makeover. There are countless reasons why a law practice lacks exposure, but attorneys must overcome these obstacles to gain online exposure and build a client base. With the right tools, attorneys can improve their marketing presence, even if that means starting from square one.
Attorneys face unique challenges when working with blended families. When planning for blended families, attorneys must take into account property that each spouse owns from their prior marriages as well as property that is jointly owned by the spouses in the current marriage. This requires an understanding of the nuances of each case and special tools to address client needs.
Round Up of Promising Legal Technology that Could Transform the Practice of Estate Planning Law: Part 2
From user-friendly smartphone apps to sophisticated artificial intelligence chatbots, legal technologies are transforming the practice of estate planning law. Let’s explore more innovations that could help your firm.
Innovative, Cloud-Based Document Drafting Software Gives Estate Planning Attorneys Flexibility, Security
Accessible, cloud-based document drafting software lets attorneys draft securely from anywhere, on any device, providing a “virtual office”
Improves collaboration, eliminates common drafting errors, and simplifies editing, saving attorneys time that they can spend focusing on client relationships
Includes ancillary documents specific to each U.S. state
Document Set View lets you see all ancillary documents in one place
Add-a-clause feature enables attorneys to create their own clause libraries
SALT LAKE CITY — WealthCounsel, the nation’s leading provider of document drafting software for estate planning attorneys, today announced Wealth Docx® online, an enhanced, cloud-based version of its traditional software solution. Now attorneys throughout the country can draft estate planning documents more efficiently and securely while improving collaboration and gaining real-time access to ancillary documents specific to every U.S. state.
How to incorporate pet trusts into estate planning, and why this will add value to your practice
For many people, animals are part of the family. Dogs, cats, rodents, reptiles, birds, and other pets are important members of millions of households, and yet they are not always accounted for when planning for the future. Many people overlook pets when embarking on estate planning and are unaware that these loved ones should be accounted for in the event of owner death or incapacity. As an attorney, adding pet trusts to your legal repertoire can add value to your law practice and potentially capture a whole new client base. Pet trusts can be easily and quickly added to an existing estate plan. Still, there are a few guidelines to follow to ensure pet owner intentions are honored in the event an animal outlives them.
Round Up of Promising Legal Technology That Could Transform the Practice of Estate Planning Law (Part 1)
It’s amazing how technology has been transforming estate planning. What was once a maze of paperwork is now mostly digitized, with organized, easy-to-use online files. If you’re curious about which legal technologies can help you the most as an estate planning attorney, this three-part series is for you.
Today’s attorneys face a number of challenges that require a fresh approach to estate planning. Trying to balance the need for time-saving, automated processes while also growing a client base leaves many attorneys stuck in the middle — unsure whether to prioritize productivity or client relationships. There’s good news: you can maximize both efficiency and client satisfaction. You can better tailor estate planning services to your clients and improve practice efficiency by knowing your audience and making use of online tools.
As president, father, and real estate magnate, President Donald Trump should give estate planning attorneys much food for thought–and that's true even in these early days of the administration. So let's consider one idea that relates to President Trump as father and real estate magnate, and another on policy writ large.
“Small business isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s for the brave, the patient and the persistent. It’s for the overcomer.” – Author unknown
The reasons small businesses prosper or fail are legion. Customer service, management, quality control, the overall economy and many other factors come into play, but the right technology is a critical component.
For many clients, their retirement accounts emerge as a major part of their estates. But what if there are concerns about how to best protect a naming beneficiary as the direct inheritor of an IRA?
Legal professionals share why subject matter, practicality, and relevance are top considerations
There are countless factors that go into deciding which legal conference to attend. Whether it’s travel, cost, or content, there are several considerations to keep in mind when making arrangements.
One of the most beneficial tools for estate planning practices is often the most underutilized: the personal information form. The information collected on this intake form sets the stage for a successful initial client meeting and a fruitful and satisfying long-term relationship between attorney and client. A completed form helps attorneys guage clients’ values, concerns and goals which can guide discussion during an initial consultation and yields optimal asset protection planning.
The generation skipping trust tax (GSTT) trips up the plans of clients who wish to leave assets to their grandchildren. The GSTT is the IRS’s way of ensuring such gifts—as well as the grandparent’s estate—do not escape taxation.
One of the primary goals for establishing an estate plan is to ensure that your client’s assets ultimately transfer to their heirs and other intended parties. For individuals engaged in business or with sizeable wealth, an asset protection plan could be essential in reaching that goal. A carefully crafted plan can help clients preserve their tangible property and other assets from creditor threats.
As we discussed in our last couple posts, for your more harried clients, books about a better way to think about their role in their business, and timesaving applications that may be a huge boon to their work.
In our first post, we talked about empathizing with business clients who may feel overwhelmed by the business of running a business, and we suggested a couple books to help them reframing their thinking about small business ownership.
As attorneys, you've heard many reasons why people start a business. People start businesses because they have an idea they're passionate about. They see a need, and they know how to fill it.
You know about the 80/20 rule, or the Pareto Principle, but do you know how to leverage it to the benefit of your law firm? The majority of attorneys will say no. If you’re one of them, make a change today to boost your success and profitability.
You probably recommend trusts over wills to many of your estate planning clients because revocable living trust-based estate plans provide a comprehensive solution for many of your clients’ needs. Of course, it’s not necessarily an either/or scenario. Your clients should also use a will to take care of any assets not in their trust and to name a guardian for any minor children.
Are you of the mindset that you should work to improve things you aren’t good at? While you’re not alone, you’re wasting time. As an attorney, your time is money.
Income tax rates play an increasingly important role in estate planning strategy as the federal estate tax exemption rises. In the late 1990s, the estate tax exemption applied to many more people than it does today. Today, it applies to only 0.2 percent of estates.
A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Unbeknownst to you, there could be several weak links right in your office. These weak links are “bottlenecks,” or practices that gum up the works of your firm. Another word for them is “constraints.”
Your staff is critical to your success whether you’ve recently opened a solo estate planning practice with a part-time assistant or run an established firm with attorneys, paralegals, and administrative support. If you can’t seem to get your legal marketing plan to work effectively or you’re struggling to maintain high levels of client satisfaction, the underlying cause may be your inability to hire and train the right people.
Everyone dreams of retirement, especially those who hope to retire early. Unfortunately, few of us make financial plans for retirement. The typical American family only has about $5,000 in retirement savings. Some Americans are fortunate enough to have a pension or an employer-sponsored 401(k) plan or smart enough to set up their own individual retirement account (IRA). For them, the concern is less about saving for retirement and more about how to manage retirement savings as part of an estate.
It’s no secret Millennials are a little different. Most don’t prioritize the same traditional values as their parents and grandparents. The stereotypical Millennial is tech savvy, entrepreneurial, and socially conscious. On the downside, many people associate Millennials with job hopping, instant gratification, and sometimes poor work ethic.
Once you decide to start an estate planning practice or expand your existing practice into estate planning, you need to make the time and effort to learn the basics, including vocabulary, strategies, and documents. Without a basic understanding of these estate planning principles, you’ll struggle to both present your value to potential clients and implement estate plans for the clients you do win.
Only about half of Americans have a will or living trust in place. The advantages of a will or trust might seem obvious to estate planning attorneys, but the statistics show that a sizeable portion of the American population doesn’t recognize the value of an estate plan.
The most costly typos historically haven’t been in estate planning–but you don’t want to be the first attorney to make the list. An extra zero in the valuation of an asset, the wrong name on a document, a misspelled street name in an address… all these typos could wreak havoc for your clients.
Whether it’s fighting over a complex multi-million-dollar estate comprised of multiple homes and exotic assets or simply a prized family heirloom, family disputes aren’t uncommon in the world of estate planning. These disputes can be complicated by sibling rivalries, beneficiaries of varying economic standing, and poor communication.
Do you have the tools to develop the best estate planning solution for your clients? As an estate planning lawyer, you need to be able to navigate the nuances of each case while still delivering accurate estate planning documents in a timely manner. How can you strike this balance? With document drafting software such as Wealth Docx® it’s easy to account for the variety of trusts that clients might require.
It’s easy to to relax a bit when you have years of experience as an attorney. While your legal experience has helped you win clients and grow your estate planning practice in the past, today’s legal industry is evolving faster than ever — and attorneys who fail to adapt risk losing clients rather than winning them.
New technology and new competition are just two of many areas where attorneys need to adapt in order to retain clients, win new business and sustain a thriving practices. Refusal or failure to evolve with these trends in the industry will likely result in significant consequences for legal practices across the country.
Much of life follows the 80/20 rule. Also known as the Pareto Principle (named for the Italian economist who devised it), this formula calculates that 20 percent of your conversations are responsible for 80 percent of the profitability of the relationship. That holds true whether it’s business or personal.
Most states and territories require continuing legal education (CLE) for attorneys. Some specific practice areas and specialties also have their own CLE requirements. It can feel overwhelming when you first see the CLE hours required by your state bar. However, with a little preparation you can efficiently meet state CLE requirements while also accumulating new skills and techniques to enhance your estate planning practice. Here’s how:
Nobody likes to think about death, especially when they’re young and healthy. But failing to implement proper estate planning can have significant financial and legal ramifications. Despite this, 43% of Americans don’t have an estate plan. Of that number, more than one third (37%) haven’t addressed the issue because they don’t believe they have sufficient assets to warrant an estate plan.
Trust fund kid. The term conjures up images of entitlement, snobbery, and pastel golf shirts. Daddy’s spoiled little brats account for only a little more than 1% of the U.S. population (there’s that maligned 1% again). When compared to the approximately 22% of Americans who inherited money, those who did so via a trust fund are an especially small minority.
As an estate planning attorney, building your estate planning practice relies on effective law practice marketing. Unfortunately, many attorneys don’t know where to start and blame time, money, and a lack of confidence. Others get started but fail to effectively convey their services and message.
As we’ve said before: no matter how strong of a writer you are, you’re not immune to typos. As an estate planning attorney, these typos can hurt your practice’s reputation, lose you clients, and even result in reprimands from the court.
Fluency in other languages always benefits a lawyer’s practice, but fluency in body language is essential. No matter what a client is telling you–or not saying–their body language can speak volumes. These tips help you know whether to change direction during a meeting, or if you’re on the right track:
Typos make any document look sloppy. When they appear in legal documents, it’s beyond sloppy. They reflect poorly on your estate planning practice. Clients may question your competence and think about going elsewhere for their estate planning. Of course, an even worse situation would be if an error isn’t caught until after a client’s death. At the time, it was just a typo that went unnoticed: but now, it could inflict chaos on the estate and its beneficiaries. Here are some “Hall of Shame” typos to look out for:
Whether or not you believe in the afterlife, there’s one thing that can’t be disputed: debt after death lives on. Seventy-three percent of Americans die with some form of debt to their name, with an average debt of $61,554, including home loans, according to Credit.com.
You might make a good first impression when meeting a new small business client, but does the same hold true for your practice? Dressing professionally, appearing confident, making eye contact, a firm handshake – as an attorney, you know how to do that.
What’s the difference between a successful and mediocre estate planning attorney? Increasingly, it’s a matter of law firm technology. If your firm operates with aging, less than ideal, software and equipment, you could be sacrificing some degree of competitiveness. Here are a few reasons you might be making slow progress on your firm’s tech end:
Even the best writers fall victim to typos and mistakes. As an estate planning attorney, these can hurt your practice’s reputation and have a number of other consequences. For example, they could also create tax issues for your clients and put you at risk of legal action. If you consistently find errors and typos in your legal documents, it might be time to invest in estate planning software that helps craft critical documents like wills and trusts.
4 Reasons Your Business Clients Don’t Feel Confident in Your Law Firm [and What You Can Do About It]
If your business clients don’t feel confident in your law firm, you may be confronting an almost existential crisis. Can you stay in business if your best clients go elsewhere because they don’t trust that you’ll deliver on your value proposition? Here are four common reasons clients have second thoughts about working with an estate planning law firm:
“Small business isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s for the brave, the patient and the persistent. It’s for the overcomer.” – Author unknown
The reasons small businesses prosper or fail are legion. Customer service, management, quality control, the overall economy and many other factors come into play, but the right technology is a critical component. Great tech and software can simplify operations and save a company money in both the short and long run.
Believe it or not, 43% of Americans don’t have an estate plan. While the advantages of a will or trust might seem obvious to you as an estate planning attorney, a sizeable minority of Americans don’t recognize the value.
Even when the topic does cross their mind, misconceptions about estate planning abound. The most common one is that the average person doesn’t need an estate plan. Of the 43% of Americans who don’t have a plan in place, more than one third (37%) haven’t addressed the issue because they don’t believe they have sufficient assets to warrant an estate plan. Another 29% said they weren’t wealthy enough to even consider it.
It’s unlikely that writing legal documents is the most exciting part of your job. That doesn’t mean it’s not critical. In fact, attorneys have been reprimanded for poor writing ability. Consider the case of Patrick Hawkins, whose poor writing skills warranted public reprimand and an order from the court to complete 10 hours of legal writing education. Mr. Hawkins isn’t alone. Legal history is littered with examples of attorneys who have been sanctioned for their poor legal writing skills.
Even if you are a strong writer, no one is immune to typos. But the slightest mistake can cost you clients and your reputation. Additionally, if you don’t keep up to date on legislative changes, you could create tax consequences for your clients and even put yourself at risk of legal action. Here are a few ways to reduce typos and errors in your legal documents.
Why Can’t You Ever Find the Time to Take on Those Great Creative Projects That Will Enhance Life for Your Small Business Clients?
Small businesses rise or stagnate depending on creativity. As an attorney, you fully intend to take on projects to help your small business clients grow, but you never seem to find the time. Here are a few tips to get such projects jumpstarted:
As an attorney, you understand the value of a trust protector for an irrevocable trust. While “set in stone,” the trust still needs someone to watch over it and ensure it can adapt to changes in the law and/or resolve differences between trustees and beneficiaries.
It’s easy to think big picture when setting goals for your estate planning practice. Winning a certain number of new clients or hitting a revenue target are great places to start, but how do you put the steps in place to meet those goals?
Student debt is the bane of the millennial generation. Huge educational loans are preventing many millennials from buying homes, marrying and having children – even moving out of their parents’ house. Your client wants to ensure that his or her children or grandchildren will have sufficient funds to pay for college when the time comes.
Many Americans view estate planning as a tool — and topic — for the rich and famous. But even some of the wealthiest celebrities neglect to plan for their future. Take the estate of the late musician Prince, for example. The artist died with no known will, leaving the fate of his $100 million fortune up in the air. The legal ramifications are enough to make doves cry.
The outcome of Prince’s estate is still to be determined. For now, the estate’s special administrator is allowed to hire entertainment experts to maximize the value of his assets. This might sound like a wealthy celebrity problem, but the reality is that prolonged legal disputes around estates happen every day to average Americans. More than one-third (35%) of respondents to our recent estate planning survey said they’ve either personally experienced or know someone who has experienced family conflict as a result of not having a will or estate plan.
The enactment of the Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016 expanded the available courses of action for aggrieved parties to protect their trade secrets. Signed into law on May 11, 2016, the Act gives federal courts jurisdiction over trade secret cases and allows individuals to bring a private cause of action in federal court.
With the exception of a spouse, beneficiaries of an IRA don’t have a lot of options when they inherit. Choices consist of receiving the funds in a lump sum or liquidation of the account over five years. That also means a spendthrift beneficiary can waste a parent’s hard-earned retirement income with disturbing ease.
How your estate planning practice can best serve clients in light of new estate and tax legislation
The enactment of the Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016 expanded the available courses of action for aggrieved parties to protect their trade secrets. Signed into law on May 11, 2016, the Act gives federal courts jurisdiction over trade secret cases and allows individuals to bring a private cause of action in federal court.
Why on Earth are You Still Tracking State and Federal Legal Requirements to Your Estate Planning Documents by Hand?
Are you and your staff still tracking state and federal legal requirements by hand for estate planning documents? If so, consider this article your much-needed wake up call: you need a software intervention!
Tolstoy said, “All happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Since families and estates are so intertwined, Tolstoy’s maxim holds true in some degree for estate planning purposes. Many clients require customized estate planning – and clients with warring families have their own special needs and considerations.
Choosing when and how to grow a team is a critical business decision for legal entrepreneurs expanding an estate planning practice. Team members are typically the highest budget line item and the biggest investment attorneys make in their practice. They are also the biggest risk, often resulting in lost of time, prospects, and business growth if not selected and nurtured positively.
Aggrieved parties have long been able to sue in federal court for copyright, patent, and trademark violations. Surprisingly, no corresponding private cause of action has existed for trade secret theft. Instead, trade secret cases were the domain of state courts.
Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes
Estate planning can involve many variables and can be fraught with potential ethical pitfalls and malpractice issues. It’s especially important for new estate planning attorneys to be aware of these risks and how to avoid them. With the proper precautions, you can prevent exposing yourself to severe case mismanagement consequences, including suspension or disbarment, civil action, and criminal charges.
Is Resistance to Your Document Drafting Systems Preventing You from Offering the Best Solutions for Your Estate Planning Clients?
Obviously, your estate planning clients deserve the best solutions for their particular needs. But are you actually providing peerless service that reflects the best of what your firm could be? And here’s a deeper question to go with that first one: if not, why not? What’s really causing friction at the firm?
As the federal estate tax exemption continues to rise – now at $5,450,000 per individual, double that for married couples – estate tax-oriented planning is relevant for fewer and fewer clients. As the legal industry shifts focus away from federal transfer tax, one of the new areas of concentration is planning for clients who are not U.S. citizens, but who seek to invest, do business, or send family members to the United States.
Estimated Reading TIme: 3 minutes
It’s not a secret that attorneys would rather spend more time nurturing client relationships and less time drafting legal documents. Especially, when you are getting started with estate planning and need to put any extra time and money into building your practice; not laboring over crafting a legal document.
More for Your Money: 5 Ways for Estate Planning Attorneys to Massively Improve Associates’ Efficiency
Everybody gets the same 24 hours in a day. Few people get maximum efficiency out of this resource, but that’s not always their fault. If your firm uses outdated attorney software, there’s no question your associates’ working hours – and their talents - aren’t being used to full effect.
When most people think of waterfalls, the first thing that comes to mind is likely Niagara or Victoria. Waterfalls in the legal sense are not nearly as breathtaking or awe-inspiring as these natural curtains of water. Nonetheless, when properly drafted, a distribution waterfall in an operating agreement is a fairly impressive provision.
Trusts are taxed differently than individuals and are subject to different tax guidelines. It is important for estate planning professionals to be mindful of the tax implications of trusts and to work to ensure that their clients’ assets receive the best available and most appropriate taxation per the IRS guidelines.
A key element of estate planning is to remember that ‘things change.’ Assets today might not be available down the road. At the same time, assets might grow and require money to be moved around or reallocated when a spouse passes away.
4 Reasons Why Estate Planning Attorneys Who Get Helpful New Software Still Struggle and Feel Overwhelmed
The right estate planning software makes your work easier and helps your practice thrive. (Or at least it should, in theory!) Why, then, do so many estate planning attorneys find their new software not only less than helpful, but exasperating?
For many remarried and blended families, a traditional “joint RLT” estate plan is often extremely challenging to design. With complex family histories, separate, commingled, and community property, and different planning needs (e.g. children from prior relationships), trying to capture all of the contingencies would be convoluted at best.
You want the crème de le crème working at your estate planning practice. How can you ensure that candidates really have what it takes to become great members of your team and enhance your firm? The process starts with their resumes and interviews, but it shouldn’t end there.
Helping Generous Clients Make a Difference: What You Can Do to Ensure Their Charitable Giving Plans Are on Point
Some of your clients wish to leave part or all of their estate to charities dear to their hearts. Of course, this generosity also benefits donors through savings on income and estate taxes. As their estate planner, it’s your job to ensure the tools used are the most effective and tax-efficient.
Are All Your Documents for Your Estate Planning Clients Totally Up to Date? If Not, What Could Happen?
Your estate planning clients depend on you to conform to all laws and minimize their tax burdens and vulnerabilities. Of course, tax laws will change over time, as will your clients’ situations, values and needs. So estate planning is never really “done done.” Instead, the process is effectively fluid until your client’s death.
Establishing a foundational understanding of individual estate planning concepts and how those concepts work together to create a comprehensive plan are essential parts of starting a new estate planning practice. Your clients expect expert guidance on how to control their property, provide for themselves and their loved ones and how to plan for incapacitation and estate distribution.
The “vision thing.” The purported lack of it helped keep President George H.W. Bush from proceeding to a second term. It’s a given that successful people have a vision – or so it seems. But if you don’t have a clear vision for your estate planning practice, and it’s gnawing at you, don’t despair.
6 Surprising Consequences for Your Estate Planning Practice of Not Having Confidence in Your Document Processes
Having confidence in your documents is essential for a successful estate planning practice. If you make errors consistently, struggle to explain “how we do things here” to new associates or spend lots of time and energy redoing paperwork at the eleventh hour, it’s time to change. Whether you acknowledge it or not, problems processing paperwork are likely spilling over into other parts of your business and negatively affecting your practice.
Do any of these six examples resonate and sound familiar?
High net-worth clients set up Grantor Retained Trusts (GRT) to ensure gifts go to specific beneficiaries and to avoid annoying taxes. GRTs are irrevocable, though, so your clients need to understand the consequences of placing assets in them.
C corporations are often the best planning option for business entities. However, fears of the dreaded “double-taxation” may lead some to reject C corps without a closer look. But double taxation can be reduced, and in some cases avoided, making it an option worth considering. Attorneys seeking to maximize tax savings for their clients should investigate whether C corps are a good option for their estate planning. Simply put, double taxation means that the C corp is taxed on its income at the corporate level, and then its shareholders are taxed on the same income when it is distributed to them in the form of dividends. Understandably, this is a situation most want to avoid or minimize.
Clients of means can benefit significantly from a Qualified Personal Resident Trust (QPRT), but your firm needs to set up this valuable estate planning tool accurately and correctly. A QPRT can reduce your client’s taxable estate, but if your client lives beyond the initial trust term, all sorts of concerns arise. Wealth Docx® QPRT software ensures potential mistakes don’t occur.
In our last post, we considered how swap powers were a strategic way to minimize tax liabilities on assets in trusts. Recall that swap powers grant the right to substitute—or swap—property of equal value in a trust. This adjusts the cost basis of the property to the FMV at the time of death.
Is the Chaos at Your Estate Planning Firm Caused by Bad People… or Bad Processes, Systems and Policies?
Clients come to your estate planning firm craving guidance and clarity. They want to protect their legacies, put their affairs in logical order and ensure their beneficiaries’ future. In other words, they depend on you to restore their sense of stability.
Swap powers are an important but often overlooked opportunity in estate planning. Understanding what allowances swap powers provide can result in significant tax liability reductions. Attorneys working with clients to preserve assets should be aware of the potential benefits of swap powers and work them into estate planning strategies.
How the Election Can Give You a Golden Opportunity to Market Firearm Planning Solutions to Your Estate Planning Clients
Guns are a prominent issue in this year’s presidential election, and this compelling conversation highlights a new opportunity for estate attorneys. Whatever the election result, firearms owners are going to be thinking about the future. As part of estate planning, gun owners will be primed to recalibrate
When choice of entity is discussed early in the planning stages for new businesses, C corporations are often quickly taken off the table because of their notorious double taxation. Double taxation refers to the fact that the corporation is taxed on its income at the corporate level, and then its shareholders are taxed on the same income when it is distributed to them in the form of dividends. But double taxation can be mitigated, and in some cases avoided, making it a more viable option.
Series LLCs have been called the next generation of pass-through entities, gaining in popularity and use as states continue to authorize them. The lack of state uniformity in the treatment and acceptance of series LLCs has lead more conservative attorneys, advisors, and clients to avoid them, believing that the uncertainties and potential risks associated with series LLCs outweigh their perceived benefits.
Any business that chooses to operate as a corporation, no matter how small, must comply with ongoing state law based requirements. For this reason, many small businesses choose to operate as limited liability companies, which are generally subject to minimal statutory requirements. Some states, such as Wyoming, have close corporation statutes that relax many of the formalities normally applicable to corporations. The majority of states do not have close corporation statutes, although close corporations, in the generic sense, may be formed under their general corporation statutes.
Trusts are common techniques used to protect assets and to transfer the contents of an estate to the next generation. Importantly, trusts are taxed differently than individuals, and are subject to different tax guidelines. It is important for estate planning professionals to be mindful of the tax implications of trusts and to work to ensure that their clients’ assets receive the best available and most appropriate taxation per the IRS guidelines.
Piercing the veil is an important concept for any business planning attorney to understand. Piercing the veil originated in the corporate context, but has been increasingly used by courts to hold members of limited liability company (LLCs) liable for the entity’s debts. What does it mean to pierce an entity’s veil, and what we can do to protect our clients from the risk of this occurring?
One of a small business owner’s primary goals is frequently asset protection. Small business owners are often wisely counseled not to “get into bed” with a potential business partner without conducting proper due diligence. The financial consequences should there be a fall-out in the business relationship or failure of the business could be devastating.
Ben Franklin’s famous quote, “In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes,” seems to get tossed around more this time of year than any other. As individuals and businesses scramble to gather and review tax records and prepare returns, promises are made that “next year we will be more organized!” One of the best ways to get organized, manage expectations, meet deadlines, and operate efficiently is to reduce responsibilities to writing. Using tools such as checklists, worksheets, questionnaires, and memoranda can help attorneys and their clients communicate effectively and stay on the same page.
What’s in a name? Sometimes plenty, which is one reason why the House of Representatives recently passed H.R. 2187, the Fair Investment Opportunities for Professional Experts Act. The move follows years of discussion regarding whether the existing definition of “accredited investor” should be amended. As passed by the House, the bill retains the name but broadens the existing definition of “accredited investor” to include two additional categories of individuals able to meet the definition notwithstanding their net worth or income level.
Operational excellence for owners of small or closely-held businesses may involve certain challenges that are less applicable in larger entities. For example, the temptation may exist to operate less formally, with less accountability and oversight due to pre-existing or familial relationships. Agreements, if written, may be sparsely worded. Documentation of key business decisions and transactions may be lacking. We saw this type of sloppy governance earlier this year in Robl Construction vs. Homoly, No. 13-3607 (8th Cir. 2015). Robl involved a two-member LLC with poorly drafted governing documents and inadequately maintained records that have cost the parties a significant amount of time and money in court.
As the final pages of 2015 closed and the first chapter of 2016 has opened, now’s a good time to reflect on the past year and look toward the next. Take a careful inventory of your 2015 accomplishments as well as opportunities for growth and improvement. Taking a hard look back will allow you some perspective as you plan for the year ahead.
All of us at WealthCounsel hope that 2015 has been a year of growth and prosperity for you and your law business. Practicing law while also being a businessperson tasked with managing the aspects of a successful law practice is no small challenge. We hope that reading this blog and implementing some of the tips and guidance you find here helps you be successful in some small way. Because our continual goal is to help attorneys achieve their goals and find the success that is most meaningful to them.
As the year draws to a close, our hearts are filled with gratitude. The Legal Education team is especially grateful for the chance to serve you and support your work as estate planning professionals. Thank you for all you do to bring peace and a sense of security to the clients and families you serve. From all of us on the Legal Education team, we wish you and your loved ones a joyous, restful holiday and a very Happy New Year.
While series LLCs have gained in popularity and use among states that have authorized them, the lack of state uniformity in the treatment and acceptance of series LLCs has led more conservative attorneys, advisors and clients to avoid them, believing that the uncertainties and potential risks outweigh the perceived benefits.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Uber appears to be a real success, as many other industries attempt to copy the on-demand, app-driven, cashless business model.
For Uber, however, success has come at a price. From issues of liability and insurance, to lawsuits from taxi companies and unions, the company has faced unprecedented challenges as it continues to navigate the sharing economy. However, the biggest issue currently confronting Uber – and the one most instructive to industries and employers nationwide – is whether Uber’s drivers are employees or independent contractors.
O’Connor v. Uber On September 1, 2015, Judge Chen of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California certified a class action lawsuit against Uber by drivers alleging they were misclassified as independent contractors rather than employees. The case began as a 2013 lawsuit by four Uber drivers seeking reimbursement for certain expenses such as gas and vehicle maintenance. Today it involves 160,000 current and former California-based Uber drivers. A decision in favor of the plaintiffs would have far-reaching implications, including a significant devaluation of Uber and a closer look at the practices of other businesses with similar business models.
At the heart of the Uber class action is the plaintiffs’ contention that Uber has violated California labor laws by failing to (i) reimburse its drivers for expenses directly incurred as a consequence of the drivers’ employment duties and (ii) pass on tips left for the drivers by patrons. The class action turns on whether the drivers are in fact employees of Uber.
Alleged Misclassification as Independent Contractors. Under California law, the determination of whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor involves a two-part analysis. First, a plaintiff presents evidence that he provided services for an employer. This establishes a prima facie case that the relationship was that of an employer/employee. The burden then shifts to the employer to prove that the presumed employee was an independent contractor.
In its 1989 Borello opinion, the Supreme Court of California enumerated a number of factors indicating an employment relationship exists. The most significant is the putative employer’s “right to control work details” (i.e., the extent to which the employer retains “all necessary control” over the worker’s performance). While the principal’s “right to control” might appear to be a crucial factor, Judge Chen highlighted the “flexibility” and “variability” of the Borello test, making clear that “no one Borello factor is dispositive when analyzing employee/independent contractor status.” Thus, despite facts that seem to point in favor of the Uber drivers, it is difficult to predict how a jury would weigh the factors, particularly in light of contradictory legal precedent.
Among the more persuasive factors for Judge Chen is the fact that Uber drivers are required to follow detailed requirements imposed on them by Uber, including a monitoring and grading system of feedback provided directly by customers to Uber. Drivers are subject to termination based on their willingness to abide by Uber’s mandates and the grades received from customers. Uber also exercises substantial control over the qualification and selection of its drivers through background checks, city knowledge exams, vehicle inspections, and personal interviews.
Alleged Violation of California Tip Laws. California Labor Code section 351 governs an employer’s obligation to remit employee-earned tips and gratuities to employees. Uber’s published policy is that riders need not pay gratuity to the driver because it is already included in the total cost of the car service. Plaintiffs contend that Uber has not remitted the total proceeds of gratuities to the drivers who earned them.
In determining liability under section 351, it seems plausible based on the facts that a jury might conclude that Uber both received gratuities from its riders and did not remit said proceeds. In other words, despite representing to customers that a tip was included in all of its fares, Uber never calculated, segregated or remitted any tips to its drivers.
The Uber class action will be brought before a California jury on June 20, 2016. While the litigation is based upon California law, the implications will surely reach far beyond the Golden State. When coupled with the U.S. Department of Labor’s recent “Misclassification Initiative,” the employee/independent contractor distinction will likely be among the primary employment issues facing businesses in the coming years. Attorneys representing small businesses or their workers should review the new DOL document and share with clients, while awaiting the Uber class action decision.
This case highlights the critical importantance of clearly defining and formalizing an employee's status. Business Docx helps you draft both Employee Agreements and Independent Contractor Agreements accurately and efficiently. Learn more about its robust capabilities to help you serve your business-owner clients.
For philanthropic clients, year-end tax planning often involves charitable contributions. Many donors have specific purposes in mind and, understandably, want to ensure that the contributions they make achieve their charitable goals. To this end, they may want to restrict the gift or earmark it for a specific purpose; however, an impermissible restriction could risk their charitable deduction. Attorneys should take special care in drafting gift agreements that ensure the client’s wishes will be respected while protecting their tax deduction.
Let’s take a closer look at three common restrictive pitfalls – use restrictions, reversionary interests and deferred gifts – and review some considerations when drafting such agreements.
Trust decanting is an underused strategy for estate planning that can add value to your practice. While very few clients are aware of this option, practices that offer it can have an advantage. Not only is this a great way to offer an important service to your clients, but it also distinguishes you as a practice among competitors.
It’s no surprise that LLCs remain an attractive option for business owners. In addition to providing them limited liability, they allow the owners to customize the LLC’s management and economic structure while offering a high degree of flexibility in taxation. However, when organizing LLC formation documents, choosing the right federal tax structure is key.
Though you might not have thought about it yet or don't believe you need to — the look, or the design, of how you present your practice is critical to building your business. It is an important business investment. But it’s hard to know when new design is needed for your law firm when you’re the one running the business every day. That’s why thoughtful, proactive planning and appropriate resources can pay long-lasting dividends. In fact, it’s an important element to business success.
In my younger days in the business of marketing and advertising, I was in a meeting with the Brand Director at Microsoft. When someone in the meeting referenced a brand project as “something we need to do” the Brand Director quickly corrected that person and said, “Our brand is not something we do. It’s who we are.” Profound? Sure. But it’s also very instructional when it’s time to think about your brand.
In a series of blog posts, I’ll outline what I consider to be the five most important steps in developing a brand vision for your law firm. One that makes you say “That’s who we are.”
But first, let’s quickly define what a “brand” is. It’s actually many things:
Before the American Taxpayer Relief Act's (ATRA) enactment in 2013, estate planning attorneys focused primarily on how to avoid the impact of estate tax.
What a difference a few years makes! Today’s post-ATRA environment is one with increased income tax rates and significantly higher federal transfer tax exemptions. In 2015, the estate tax exemption is $5.43 million, which applies to only .2% of deceased Americans. In this new estate tax landscape where income tax has effectively become the new death tax, today’s estate planning professionals should consider income tax-centric strategies; most notably, leveraging the step-up in basis. More about “step-up” in a moment, but first:
What Is Basis? Simply put, basis is the cost to purchase an asset. For example, if you purchase stock, your basis is the purchase price, plus costs and transfer fees.
Part I of this two-part series considered some of the more significant banking, business and ethical issues related to the legalization of marijuana. Part II will now highlight issues related to employment in states where marijuana is legal.
The U.S. Department of Labor has recently issued a document (Administrator’s Interpretation No. 2015-1) that offers business owners additional guidance for properly classifying an “employee” vs. an “independent contractor.” The historic “economic realities” test, widely used by courts when determining a worker’s classification, consists of a number of factors that have over time been applied inconsistently and with certain factors given substantial weight over the others. The Administrator’s Interpretation does not change or reject the economic realities test, but rather sheds light on proper application of the test based on the circumstances.
In my previous blog, Part II – Decanting, I addressed the option where a trustee exercises his or her discretion in making distributions for the benefit of a beneficiary and, rather than distribute the property from the trust outright, the trustee distributes property in further trust. This modification provides an alternative when the results intended by the original trust instrument cannot be successfully achieved as the trust is actually administered.
As a further safeguard to ensure a grantor’s intent is fully and faithfully executed, we now move to the top step in our ascending staircase of Trust Modification options: modification by Trust Protectors.
In Part I of this blog series on Trust Modification, I addressed the first three (the simplest) modification options: Reformation, Procedural Modification and Equitable Deviation. Let’s continue up the stair steps to Part II and the more complex option of decanting.
I’m not much of a golfer. In fact, when I’m asked if I play, I reply that golf gave up on me years ago. I appreciate the beauty of the game and the finesse that great players demonstrate, but my golf game required a great number of “Mulligans” for me to finish a round.
There are some parallels between golf and estate planning, especially as it pertains to errant strokes and missed opportunities that inevitably occur in golf and sometimes, in estate planning.
IRS attorney Cathy Hughes created waves at the American Bar Association’s Section of Taxation meeting in May when she signaled the Service’s intent to release new proposed regulations under IRC §2704(b)(4) by mid-September. The proposed regulations would likely include new “disregarded restrictions” built into family entity strategies that would, in turn, reduce or eliminate the use of valuation discounts in those entities.
Dividing assets after a divorce is rarely an easy, straightforward process. This is especially true when clients split up late in life. During marriage, asset ownership often becomes intertwined – or commingled – resulting in shared ownership of most of the couple’s property. If the marriage ends, untangling that property can be a real challenge.
Estate planning professionals who are working with divorcing couples or clients who are moving on to a second marriage have an important part to play in ensuring the fair and accurate division of assets. They can also provide great value to clients by helping them update their estate plans to protect them from unintended consequences, assuring their wishes will be honored when they die.
You’ve mapped out an ambitious, yet attainable plan for your business and know precisely where you want to be in the next year. Now the question is “What should I be doing this afternoon to get there?”
Actions, we know, speak louder than words. While it’s valuable, of course, to consider the big picture, when it comes to marketing our business and reaching our goals, the question we continually face is how to translate thoughtful planning into successful execution?
Start by building back your plan. That means breaking down that one-year goal into bite-size chunks: quarterly goals, then monthly, weekly and daily goals. For example, if you’ve set a revenue goal of $300K for 2015, a reasonable quarterly goal would be $75K, or $6K per week (50 weeks/year). That could translate into the weekly goal of two clients per week, each with an average fee of $3K. With your financial goal now broken down into immediate, intermediate and long-term goals, write out a work plan with activities to ensure you’re consistently moving forward and working toward that goal. Activities would include meeting one new advisor each week, adding a new entry to your blog each month, building two referral relationships each quarter, etc.
Effective estate planning is about seeing the big picture and how each component fits into and impacts the other parts. This is especially true of planning for doctors, dentists and other healthcare professionals.
Doctors, dentists, etc. have all the estate planning issues that any client might have. Among healthcare professionals, you’ll also encounter a high incidence of more advanced needs and other planning considerations. There are a couple of reasons for this.
Explosive. That’s the word that comes to mind when I think about the growth of video in our world today.
Television might still be where many people go to be entertained, but make no mistake. New entrants in video are building audiences without the heavy costs attached to the traditional TV model. The fact is we live in a visually driven world. From music, news and sit-coms to commercials and college coursework, video has become a huge delivery mechanism.
How huge? Recent research results from ComScore Video Metrix show that 188.6 million Americans watched online video content via desktop computers in February 2015.
One of the more unique and effective ways to deliver your message is through storytelling. A strong story well told can really resonate with an audience. It can help make your business and the work you do tangible and real to prospective clients. It can also help you in earning the trust of valued referral sources. Last but not least, a powerful story is a reminder to your current clients that in choosing you they made the right decision.
You’ve heard it said many times: Everybody loves a good story. Stories have always fascinated people and they’re often more easily remembered than a list of facts. So what makes a good story for your business and brand? Three things: emotion, truth and relevance.
On June 26, 2015 the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges, the name assigned to a series of consolidated cases on same-sex marriage rights. The Court ruled 5-4 in favor of the petitioners, holding that same-sex married couples are entitled to equal protection under the laws, and that their marriages must be recognized nationwide.
In an earlier blog, I reviewed the advantages of a strong referral network (CPAs, financial advisors, etc.) and how to make the most of this valuable resource for effective legal practice building.
In this post, I’d like to “reverse field” for a moment and share some thoughts on how a partnership with you can add real value to a referral resource’s business.
When seeking new referral source relationships, the question of reciprocity is a common one: “Will you, in turn, refer clients to me?” It’s a fair question and deserves a fair response. Because many of the clients an Estate Planning Attorney receives, already have a relationship with a Financial Advisor or CPA, is is very difficult for the attorney to reciprocate referrals. However, the question the referral source is really asking is: “What’s the advantage to my business?” Or simply put, “What’s in it for me?” To that basic question, your response can be “Quite a bit, actually.”
The U.S. Supreme Court is set to decide in a matter of weeks whether the Constitution requires states to allow same-sex marriage. While many same-sex couples may be tempted to simply await a decision, waiting may not be the best strategy. To gain control of life decisions and estate planning, same-sex couples should put their wishes in writing now without waiting for the Supreme Court decision.
Want to get your name in front of more prospective clients – for free? It’s not fantasy; it’s public relations.
Attorneys who take the time to properly promote themselves to members of the media can reap huge benefits. Effective media relations can get you featured in news stories, helping you build your reputation as a legal expert, raise awareness about estate planning topics and educate prospects about the steps they need to take.
So how do you do it? These tips can help.
Add Value: Think about what you can bring to members of the media that other people can’t. As an estate planning professional, you can likely provide insight and expertise on related Supreme Court rulings, tax changes or other newsworthy events. If there’s a movie coming out that addresses elder law issues and that’s part of your practice, you could provide tips for consumers on overlooked legal issues for seniors. Think about topics that are controversial, unique, trendy or timely. How can you provide insight on any of those topics that would benefit a news outlet’s audience?
Three years ago each one of us became recipients of a $5 million coupon. That’s how I like to describe the estate tax exemption made permanent by the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012. (Adjusted annually for inflation, the 2015 exemption is $5,430,000.)
Beyond this attractive estate tax exemption “coupon,” one of ATRA’s most taxpayer-friendly aspects is a concept referred to as “portability.” A temporary feature under the previous tax act, estate tax exemption portability became a permanent fixture under ATRA. This portability now provides a means for married couples to fully use each spouse’s estate tax exclusion amount without having to worry about technical marital deduction formulas in their estate plans. In essence, your unused exemption “coupon” can be added to your surviving spouse’s.
There are many ups and downs, difficulties and challenges in marketing your services to prospective clients. It is easy to let rejection and other obstacles take us out. In challenging times, the key to successful marketing and sales starts with one word – bounce.
No, it’s not fabric softener. And it’s not some soft, fuzzy, “feel-good” concept either. Bounce is a practical tool, a working principle that can help you gain the upper hand and build the business you want, on your terms.
A successful practice is built on relationships. Strong, personal relationships that last. Those kind of relationships don’t happen overnight, of course. They take time, effort and skilled communication.
I’d like to share with you my recipe for creating effective communication as part of your legal marketing strategy, a multi-layered approach that will help foster and promote lasting client relationships.
You’re working hard to establish your practice, to build a real presence in your community and you’re ready to add some effective marketing to help you reach your goals. But before you begin, let me recommend a few worthwhile steps to take on the front end, steps that will help assure success on the back end.
Its important to start with a strong legal marketing foundation, a solid infrastructure that will support your marketing efforts. This infrastructure should be aligned with your firm's goals & values. Now your business will project an authentic message and attract the type of referral sources and/or clients you are looking to work with.
Here are a few of the most critical and often overlooked elements of a successful marketing foundation: Biography, Elevator Speech, Ideal Client and Mission Statement.
Setting up an LLC can, of course, offer many advantages. Chief among those advantages is an LLC’s flexibility. With less stringent requirements for compliance and less necessary paperwork than S-Corps and C-Corps, LLCs are easier to form and easier to keep in good legal standing.
The flexibility of an LLC, however, is not permission to be informal in its creation or operation. Consider the recent case before the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, Robl Construction, Inc. v. Homoly.
A coherent strategy for the transfer of assets is, of course, crucial to the success of any estate plan. But our best-laid plans will fall far short of expectations if the trusts we’ve so carefully drafted are never properly funded.
If the trust is the car, the funding is the fuel. Without gas in the tank, that beautiful sedan with the precision engine is just metal on four wheels. It’s not going anywhere. The same holds true for an estate plan . Until it’s properly funded, the “plan” is just a plan – a plan that can’t be executed. Like the car with the needle on empty, it’s not going to take you anywhere.
In a recent study on how law firms use their websites in marketing their business, LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell found that the most popular page on a firm’s site is the biography page. It’s a fact: 85% of site visitors will spend time reviewing an attorney’s bio. Clearly, the biography plays a critical role in your legal marketing program. And a thoughtful, well-written biography can be a real marketing asset.
What does a well-written estate planning attorney’s biography look like? Well, it doesn’t look like a resume, a CV, or a list of bulleted achievements. For many areas of legal practice, a bio that simply covers education, licensure and professional accomplishments may be suitable and quite enough.
For the estate planning attorney, however, the bio needs to say more.
You’ve outlined a business plan and defined your target. You’ve crafted a mission statement, a vision statement and spent time fine-tuning your “elevator” message. So how do you go about practice building? It’s time to begin creating your legal marketing kit, the tools that will help position you for success.
There’s a widespread misconception that the only gun owners in need of special consideration for firearms in their estate planning are those individuals who own a very valuable collection (i.e., expensive, antique) or those with specific NFA-regulated firearms (fully automatic machine guns, noise suppressors, etc.)
While those collectors certainly need advanced planning, many more individuals need at least some planning considerations in place within their basic estate plan.
We all recognize the value of referral sources and the role they play in helping to advance an estate planning professional’s legal marketing efforts ad business. All referral sources, however, are not created equal. While one may readily refer, another may be detached or disengaged. If you’ve invested the time and energy in building your network but are less than satisfied with the results, here are some practical steps you can take to improve your referral quotient.
Socrates, the classical Greek philosopher, would have made a great marketing man. Like any successful marketer, he understood that before you look across the horizon with your world-shaking plans, look within.
George Patton is considered to be one of the greatest military strategists in history. While his leadership and fierce determination are legendary, perhaps the greatest asset General Patton brought to the strategy table was his direct combat experience. When Patton devised a battle plan, his keen, analytical mind told him what should work while, at the same time, his hard-earned experience on the battlefield told him what would work.
When it comes to advancing your estate planning business, one of the best marketing tools you have is right there in the mirror: You. Your knowledge, insight and expertise can be a real marketing asset. But first you have to position yourself as that expert, the reliable source that the media and others turn to for a thoughtful, professional perspective.
The next time you’re evaluating an estate plan, ask yourself these three questions: Is it inspirational? Is it aspirational? Does it say something special about someone special?
A client who experiences a critically disabling event has to navigate and manage many obstacles, both physical and emotional. One question, however, that an incapacitated client should not have to ask is “Who will see that my estate continues to be well managed and that my wishes will be followed?”
About five years ago I invested in a tuxedo – shirt, tie, studs, shoes – the whole nine yards. Formal wear is not something I need often, but when I do it’s convenient to have it right there, in my closet, ready to go. And with no more tuxedo rentals, the tux has proven to be a worthwhile wardrobe investment.
I recently pulled out the tux and tried it on in anticipation of an upcoming event. Something was different. Actually, it was me. My commitment to a healthier, more active regimen was paying off, but the tuxedo was going to need some adjustments. I went to go see the tailor.
It’s a good reminder for us and for our clients. Call it, if you will, a first principle of estate planning: What fits you now won’t fit you forever.
Wine, flowers, chocolate. A candlelit dinner, a horse-drawn carriage ride through the park. There are so many ways to say “I love you.” While it may not ring as romantic as a Sinatra love song, estate planning can also be a real expression of love and devotion. In fact, there’s even a special name for one plan: the “I Love You” will.
I had the recent pleasure and privilege of attending the Heckerling Institute on Estate Planning in Orlando, January 12 to 16. Not surprisingly, the event was outstanding and demonstrated once again why Heckerling has become the national forum for estate planning professionals.
Yes, I suppose they fit the broad definition of a blended family, but the story of the “lovely lady” and a “man named Brady” was, of course, simply that. A story. When I turn off the TV and look at today’s blended families, my first observation is how very unique and different they all are. (Or as one estate planner remarked to me: “If you’ve seen one blended family, you’ve seen one blended family.”)
Estate planning for blended families is complex and it requires a watchful eye and a delicate touch. Clients in blended families should understand that there are important additional issues unique to them that must be addressed, like how to properly provide for their spouse without accidentally disinheriting their own kids. If there are minor kids, planning for their custody adds further complexity.
“Sonny, it’s business. Not personal.”
Peace and Joy. Those twin themes ring loudly during this happy season. It’s a good time to remind ourselves that through our work as estate planning professionals, we have a gift to share and with it, a measure of peace to the clients and families we serve.
I’ll admit to some real surprise when I learned how frequently our Supreme Court reached unanimous decisions in their last session – nearly two-thirds of the time. Hard to believe that disparate bunch could find so many things to agree on, but in case after case they did. And Clark v. Rameker was one of them.
In the wake of their unanimous decision, inherited IRAs have been stripped of their protective status under bankruptcy law and are now open – naked, shivering and vulnerable to the claims of creditors.