I began my career doing business litigation in an international law firm in San Diego. However, I was unhappy because there was a huge disconnect between what I had dreamed about when I went to law school and the reality of being a lawyer. I went to law school hoping to help people around me and make a difference in people’s lives, but in reality, practice in a law firm was a lot of paper shuffling, billable hours and bureaucracy.
One day, a Chinese friend of mine came up to me and asked me to update her living trust that another attorney had drafted for her more than 10 years ago. I immediately noticed how the trust was poorly drafted with numerous clauses missing. The attorney never explained to her what was in the trust. Worst of all, her assets were not titled in the name of the trust, which meant even though she had spent a few thousand dollars on an estate plan to make things as easy as possible for her loved ones, they would still be stuck dealing with the probate court after her death.
At the time, I thought for sure, this must be malpractice. But after talking with many lawyers, I found out this is not malpractice at all — it’s common practice.
That’s when I decided to start my own firm.
It seems my friend met with their attorney, exchanged some information, the attorney prepared some documents, my friend signed the documents, and then stuck them in an envelope and never looked at them again.
I opened this firm with the idea of bringing back a long-term trust relationship. So, here are some of the things we do differently based on my experience with the traditional model of estate planning.
1. Flat Fee
Nothing we do is billed on an hourly basis. Everything we do is billed flat fee, agreed to in advance, so there are no surprises. Our clients really like it and we do too. It doesn’t feel good to keep track of time in 6-minute increments.
Also, we respond to our clients’ questions within 48 hours. You don’t have to be left hanging for hours or days. You’ll get your questions answered right away.
2. Proper Ownership of Your Assets
We do not leave the ownership of your assets to chance. We work with you to ensure your assets are properly titled in the name of the trust. We take responsibility to supervise the funding. We also have an established process in place to ensure that your assets remain titled correctly, and newly acquired assets are titled properly. With client assistance, we utilize a sophisticated software program that allows us to fund your living trust, track the funding process to completion and verify to you that it is done.
3. Creation of Long-Term Relationships
We see planning as just the beginning of the relationship whereas in the past the plan was viewed as a one time transactional event. Once you sign your planning documents, that is when the relationship really begins. At no additional charge, we review your plan at least every three years. And, we have two levels of membership programs that almost all of our clients participate in – either the gold program which provides you with a yearly plan review and unlimited changes to your plan or the gold plus program that includes an annual meeting with your attorney, CPA and financial advisor, plus ongoing legal guidance throughout the year.
Finally, we service our clients in English, Mandarin Chinese and Taiwanese. Estate planning involves a lot of personal and private information. Speaking with an attorney who understands your language and culture will help you tremendously to grasp the nuances in the law, make better decisions and have greater control over the planning process.
On a personal level, my husband and I are expecting a baby boy this June and we are super excited.
And, you know, what I really bring to this is the realization and the awareness that the planning that what we’re doing here isn’t really about you. It’s really about creating a plan that’s going to take care of the people that you love the most.
You won’t feel a lot of what we do today yourselves because you won’t be here when this plan is needed. But it’s the people you love the most, domestic or abroad, that are going to be very aware of what you’ve done, and so that’s what my family bring to this.