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.