I don’t know everything, what I do know is that I have a deep level of knowledge in very few areas of law and financial planning. When it comes to estate planning concepts as it applies to Main Street (not Wall Street) families who are interested in protecting what they’ve worked hard to earn, I’d put my pedigree and knowledge up against any other estate planner or financial planner. That said, in other areas of law, unless I saw it on Law & Order last night, I’m not going to know it….and I’m happy to admit that I don’t know.
That last part is the most important thing. I don’t pretend to know or dismiss things I don’t know enough about, I either learn them or accept that I don’t know. That’s how I got into elder law in the first place. I was a pure estate planning attorney, focusing on what happens when you pass away. But I was being bombarded with questions revolving around “what happens if I don’t pass away and continue to age, then what?” I didn’t have the answer, didn’t pretend to have the answer, so I dove deep into the laws and strategies to become an expert on that answer. Going on to become the second youngest attorney at the time to pass the Certified Elder Law Attorney exam in the nation and become the 15 CELA in the state of Michigan. Then going on to write a book on the subject and then teach Elder Law at WMU Cooley Law School.
Who Do You Trust for Heart Surgery? Heart Surgeon or Family Doctor?
If you are going in for heart surgery would you want the experienced heart surgeon or would you trust your family doctor when it comes to performing the surgery?
Likewise, I’m surprised when families get a second opinion from a financial planner or family lawyer when it comes to our recommendations. We then end up having to educate the family lawyer or financial planner on Medicaid, Medicare, Tax Law, Veterans Benefits, Asset Protection rules, Trust rules, beneficiary designations, etc…
I’m happy to do it, but I just feel for the families who are often mislead when it comes to asset protection by lawyers and financial planners who know enough to be dangerous…and often are.
When it comes to planning to protect you legally from the devastating cost of long-term care are you going to have more faith in a Certified Elder Law Attorney (CELA), who teaches elder law to law students as an adjunct professor, written a book on the subject, teaches continued education to lawyers and financial planners on the topic or an annuity salesman or basic estate planning attorney? I welcome the opportunity to educate the professional on the planning strategies–they often turn into wonderful referral sources.
Price Shop Your Heart Surgeon? Documents versus Planning.
Would you price shop your surgeon? Do you want the cheapest heart surgeon you can afford? Probably not. The difficult thing to understand with good legal estate planning is that not all documents are created equal. If you call up 10 attorneys and ask how much a trust costs, you’ll get varying answers. You can have a trust done online for probably $40 or you can have an estate plan done for free through UAW Legal Plan, if you’re a member. But the age old lesson applies….you get what you pay for. That applies to legal planning as well.
Having a trust or power of attorney isn’t enough. It’s what that document says. Better than that is how those tools are used. If I asked you to get me a paint brush, would you know what type of brush to get me? It’s all about the planning.
Their Ego Versus What’s Best For You
Sometimes, not all the time, there are financial planners or other attorneys who feel like that if they are not familiar with a strategy or haven’t heard of a certain type of trust, that it a) doesn’t work or b) isn’t right for you. This is just their ego getting in the way of what is best for you. You look up to them as a trusted advisor and they may feel that by having a new strategy (asset protection isn’t new, by the way…), it challenges their authority and the respect you may have for them.
This is very closed minded of the advisor and can be detrimental to your planning.
I love working with open minded lawyers and advisors. In fact, just last week I was having coffee with an advisor at one of the Wall Street type financial planning firms and he said to me “Chris, this is amazing, can you come present to my group?” Of course. This is the point, share ideas for what’s best with your clients. Not all planning is right for all clients, but at least know the options out there.
Sure, you can do a basic trust that avoids probate (if funded properly) and controls assets upon death. But you can also build an asset protection trust that does all that PLUS protects you. Get educated. Know your options. Choose a plan that works for you.