Raina L. Bonds
I began my career as a financial advisor working for large banks and insurance companies. As I met clients from all over the world, I saw the need for both wealth and legacy planning more and more. Law school later in life was a way for me to transition from just helping my clients to build their financial lives to helping them establish the life and legacy that they always dreamed of for themselves and their families.
The time I spent in probate court really opened my eyes to the dangers of failing to plan. I will never forget an elderly art collector named Annie who was wheelchair-bound and going through a forced guardianship and conservatorship process due to her ill health and inability to care for herself. Annie had amassed a fortune dealing in art and real estate. However, she failed to establish a plan for her disability or death and ended up in court as a result. The courtroom was packed because Annie’s family members, whether they had a relationship with her or not, realized that she was loaded and they wanted whatever they could get.
The public probate process was humiliating for Annie. At one point during the hearing Annie turned around observing the full courtroom and said in her elderly crackling voice, “all of these people are here for my money.” Annie may have been struggling with her health, but she understood that none of them were there because they actually cared. They were there to see what she had and how they could get their hands on it. The use of an Advance Healthcare Directive and Durable Power of Attorney could have saved her tons of time, money, and the unwanted publicity.
Another one of my experiences in probate court was a brother (Frank) and sister (Frances) who were fighting over a house that their mother left when she died intestate (without a will). When someone dies without a will, the court is forced to decide how to distribute the deceased person’s assets. In this case,after a lengthy and expensive probate process, the court awarded Frank and Frances 50/50 ownership in their deceased mother’s house. Seems like a good outcome, right? Well not so much.
Eight (8) years had gone by since their mother passed and they were still fighting over the house. Frank had agreed to fix up the house and sell it and split the proceeds with Frances. Frances had been sick and trusted that Frank was taking care of things. Frank ended up losing the house and needless to say, he never got around to giving Frances her share of the proceeds. During their hearing, Frank and Frances could not even look at each other much less speak a word to each other. I am sure that their mother was turning in her grave at the thought of her children fighting and losing their relationship over something that she meant to be a wealth building tool to them.
Another probate nightmare was a man named Sean who was estranged from his family when he passed away without a will. Sean owned a condo when he died, but no one came forward to claim it and it escheated to the state (escheatment is a legal process that happens when the state takes ownership of a person’s property). Sean was single with no children. However, he did have siblings with whom he had not been in touch.
Ten (10) years had passed before his siblings figured out that Sean was deceased and his condo was owned by the state. The siblings had to open a new probate case and go through an in depth process to attempt to get ownership of the condo. They were still tied up in a pretty complicated court case that will last for years to come. They may or may not be able to regain possession of Sean’s condo.
Keeping families out of court and out of conflict is our specialty. I wish that I had met Annie under different circumstances and at a different point in her life. I would have helped a person like her to establish a plan that would have protected her privacy, kept her affairs out of court, established healthcare and financial powers of attorneys of her choosing, and preserved and ultimately passed on her wealth in the manner in which she saw fit.
So many of us can relate to Annie’s story in one way or another. It even hit home for me as my parents started to age. I quickly had a conversation with them about what their wishes and plans were and made sure that they had the proper planning tools in place to keep my brother, sister and I out of court and out of conflict.
Here we do things differently:
1) Flat fees make your total cost predictable and easy to budget. No unpleasant surprises here! The best thing about it is you get to choose your level of service and manage the cost in a way that works for you. No more hourly billing and hoping to get in and out quickly with what could be an ineffective plan.
2) Peace of mind knowing that you are in good hands. Just knowing that your family will be taken care of if anything happens to you will give you the peace of mind that you have been a good steward over your own life and legacy. We work with your family and the other professionals in your life to ensure that things are handled according to your wishes.
3) Legacy preserved and passed down. Wealth and legacy planning is about way more than just money. While money is a huge piece of the puzzle (and quite frankly from Annie’s experience we know that is what everyone eventually comes looking for), it is only one piece. One of the things that we do as a part of your plan is to preserve the intangible parts of you that will be lost once you are gone. If there are special things that you want your family to know, a secret recipe that you want to pass down, or some other life lesson that you want preserved as a part of your legacy, we record a video as a part of your plan.
As you can see, our firm is more involved than the typical law firm that will prepare documents and send you on your way. We also do not compare to documents that you can prepare online or for free/low cost. We are a premium affordable service designed to provide you with a customized life and legacy plan that will work when your family needs it most, and a lifetime relationship that will evolve with you as your life evolves.
On a personal note, I am a mom of three now-adult children and one young grandson. What my children and grandson bring to this experience is the importance of leaving them in a position where they are not starting from scratch. I want them to build wealth for generations to come, live vibrant and financially fulfilling lives, and leave their own impactful legacies of love and responsibility. I know that I will not be the one to benefit from the planning that I have put in place for them. It just gives me peace of mind to know that they will not be in court or conflicted about what my wishes are when that time comes.