If You Have to Ask – Ethics

Granny

This is the cover of a 1997 Probate and Property magazine.  The cover article “Granny’s in the Clink and Her Lawyer’s There Too” was about Medicaid planning.  It discussed a federal law criminalizing the transfer of assets or advising clients to transfer assets in order to qualify for need based Medicaid benefits.  At the time, I was working at The Northern Trust Company thinking about establishing a law practice and that article influenced me.  Many estate planning attorneys also practice “elder law” or Medicaid planning.  I made a deliberate choice not to advise clients on such issues and instead refer those matters to attorneys specializing in Medicaid.  It was simply a preference for the type of law I wanted to practice.  I believe my clients are better served by a sharper focus on pure trusts and estates law.

Asset protection planning is another legal specialty that I do not handle because I choose not to.  A video webcast seminar last year on Offshore Planning included sections on “Is Asset Protection Planning Ethical?”, “How To Avoid Being Involved in a Fraudulent Matter” and “Possible Criminal Exposure”.  A seminar on Domestic Asset Protection Trusts had a one hour discussion on “Aiding and Abetting a Fraudulent Transfer”. Yikes!  ….If you have to ask:  Is it ethical?  No thanks – I’ll take a pass.

Lawyers are held to very high standards of professional conduct; most are very ethical and many are highly competent and fairly priced.  The point is to do your homework when choosing a legal advisor or any type of advisor for that matter.  There’s a book, Living Trusts for Everyone (2010), that gives great tips on choosing a lawyer.  Two of my favorite chapter titles are “Watch Out for Lawyers” and “Trust Seminars: A Free Meal, But at What Cost?”.  Your War Chest should contain an awareness of the importance of selecting the right estate planning lawyer.

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