What’s Coming For Clients In 2024
Chandler Law Life and Legacy Practice
Chandler Law is pleased to announce the addition of an innovative estate planning practice called Life and Legacy Practice in early 2024. Let me provide below some personal and professional history that has helped guide our decision to add this unique legal service program for our clients.
I began my legal career at a boutique law firm in downtown Atlanta that handled professional malpractice, lawyer discipline defense, and estate litigation cases. In what would be a defining moment in my first year out of law school, I had the privilege of representing twenty-six heirs who lost their beautiful family farm, family home, and many of the family’s heirlooms to an unscrupulous neighbor. The neighbor took advantage of the heirs’ elderly relative by exerting “undue influence” to get the relative to change her will in favor of the neighbor. Following lengthy litigation, we prevailed before the Georgia Supreme Court, but ultimately lost on retrial when the jury overturned our win and awarded the farm, the house and all the heirlooms to the neighbor, not the heirs. That case taught me some hard lessons about how families need to have thorough and proper life and legacy planning in place to protect themselves and their loved ones.
With these lessons in mind, after the birth of our first child my wife and I decided that we needed to have some estate planning done. We were going on a trip to Europe and began to ask ourselves what would happen to our young daughter if something terrible were to happen to us and we became incapacitated or died. We decided to use an estate planning lawyer friend to create our plan. The process was fast and seemed almost too easy. We completed a rather short questionnaire, had one phone call, and made an appointment to sign the documents. There was no real discussion about our fears, desires, or needs. We were advised that we needed certain basic documents, but that was the extent of the discussion. We signed our wills, financial powers of attorney, and healthcare directives. We left the signing meeting believing all our assets and our young child would be taken care of if something happened to us. Looking back, I believe that because I was a lawyer, I was expected to understand that these documents were the bare minimum. Naively, I was relying upon our estate lawyer to educate us. Not long ago, we realized that didn’t happen.
Over the next eighteen years of my life many things greatly changed. My second daughter was born in 2005 and then twelve years later my first wife and I divorced. Two years later my first wife passed away and her estate ended up in litigation which has gone on for over four years. What an expensive nightmare. In 2006 my father passed away and in 2012 my mother passed away which afforded me even more estate planning experience. Primarily, those experiences taught me that avoiding probate is ideal.
However, not all things were bad and there is a happy ending! I was fortunate to marry my current wife, Britt, in 2018 and we began exploring changes and updates to our existing estate planning documents. Again, I consulted with a different lawyer (also a friend) whose large law firm got busy helping us. This estate planning engagement was no different from my first estate planning experience. Britt and I completed a questionnaire and set an appointment to sign paperwork several weeks later. This time we signed wills, trusts, financial powers of attorney and advance directives for health care. Despite the fact trusts were created, our attorney did not discuss the critical task of funding or moving property into the trusts. We had no realization about how important this step was.
Furthermore, we had no discussion about what would happen to our three teenage children should either or both of us become incapacitated or pass away. Here again, we thought we were all set and believed that our family would be able to handle our affairs if the event our incapacity or death. In fact, after signing our planning documents we put them on a shelf in my office and forgot about them. Fortunately, we had one insight too few people have –we recognized that we would need to revisit our plan in the future. Most people put their documents away and they are never considered or touched again until someone dies. We have since learned that our experience with estate planning is very typical and that many estate plans, along with our old plan, are destined to fail. Failed estate plans can cause tremendous negative consequences, and all too often leave families in dispute and in court.
After five years of marriage, Britt adopted my two daughters and I adopted Britt’s adult son from her prior marriage. Needless to say, many dynamics and circumstances have changed in our lives over a very short period of time, including buying a new house and acquiring other assets and heirlooms. Once again, even after only five years of marriage, we found ourselves needing to update our estate plan. But this time, things would be different. We discovered a more thorough method for discussing life and legacy issues, planning, creating effective documents, funding trusts, and providing our family with a usable roadmap of what they should do when the inevitable happens to us.
Since representing the twenty-six heirs in my first estate litigation case at the beginning of my career, Chandler Law has had the privilege of handling additional estate litigation cases. Moreover, in our practice of defending lawyers charged with legal malpractice, we have seen how estate plans can go wrong, leaving families in conflict and spending tens of thousands of dollars on lawyers and litigation expenses. We definitely learned from the mistakes of our lawyer-clients and, taking those lessons, we have applied them to make Chandler Law better prepared to serve its clients.
Anyone who has read my book or blog posts knows that Chandler Law also represents lawyers throughout all aspects of their legal career. Indeed, we represent lawyers who are launching and establishing their law firms as well as those who are winding down their law firms. In doing so, many lawyers asked us if we could handle their estate planning needs but, in the past, we had to refer them to other firms. We didn’t always feel good about that, so finally we listened to our clients. Now, based on our experience and careful attention to detail, we are able to assist lawyers (as well as other clients) with their life and legacy planning.
As we searched for the best professional tools that exceed the “traditional” estate planning experience, we consulted with an estate planning mentor and adopted a system that checked all of our boxes. Since we learned first-hand that the traditional transactional model of estate planning often fails families, we designed a new and better way which we want to share with our clients in 2024. The system we will follow with our clients helps educate them so they can make intelligent, well-founded decisions about their life and legacy plans which will help eliminate conflict and keep their loved ones out of court.
In many estate planning practices, everything is billed on an hourly basis. Lawyers often command average hourly rates of $300-$500/hour and as you can imagine clients want their lawyers to do everything as quickly as possible with as little communication as possible. Like me, when I first realized I was being billed for every call and question about our personal estate plan, clients being billed hourly are reluctant to communicate with their lawyer because of cost concerns. This reluctance to communicate is problematic in estate planning because estate plans are dynamic and clients need to timely advise their attorney of life changes. In other words, the plan that you are creating today will not be your “forever plan.” Just as my life changed, we know that our clients’ lives will also change, their assets are going to change, their circumstances are going to change, their family may grow, the laws are going to change, and we want our future estate clients to feel free to call us when they have estate changes without worrying about what it is going to cost them.
Here’s another insight: having defended many lawyers over the last twenty-four years, we also understand that lawyers are notoriously unresponsive. Most of the time that is because they do not have the proper personnel or systems in place to be responsive to their clients. What that means in the context of estate planning is that a client will have a meeting, sign their documents, take them home, but not realize (like me) or remember what their lawyer told them to do (e.g. going to the bank and transferring their bank account into the name of their estate plan).
Remember, neither firm I hired for two prior estate plans ever explained what I needed to do with our plans once we left their offices. What we have found with some lawyers is that once you have questions, you will call the office only to get your lawyer’s voicemail because they don’t have a team to help support them. Without such guidance y0u will leave the bank without having transferred your accounts, and then it’s not likely to ever happen. This is yet another way we realized from our own personal experiences that estate plans often fail –in this case because assets aren’t transferred into the trusts. And this is exactly what would have happened to my wife and I had we not realized how our plan was destined to fail and done something about it.
All of these experiences led to the creation of the Chandler Law Life and Legacy practice for two reasons. First, our lawyer-clients have asked us to help with their estate plans. Second, we realized that we want to continue helping all of our clients and friends. The initial planning is just the beginning of the relationship, and we are focused on putting a plan in place that we know will work for our clients and the people they love.
As I said at the beginning of this article, the birth of my first daughter was the reason I started thinking about estate planning for my family. And, to this day, our children are the reason why we continue to change and update our plan. To us our children today are our life, but when we are gone they will be our legacy. Planning is something that you do for the people you love the most. You won’t be the one to benefit from the plan we are going to design for you today. The people who will benefit are the people you love the most who will be dealing with your affairs after you are gone.
Chandler Law, through our Life and Legacy Practice, looks forward to serving you in 2024!