To help you understand how we are different from every other estate planning law firm in Cary requires an explanation of what the “traditional” experience with a lawyer is like. If you’ve worked with a lawyer to prepare estate planning documents in the past, this will sound familiar.
How the Traditional Estate Planning Law Firm Works…
During the “traditional law firm experience”, you’ll go in and meet with an estate planning lawyer who will often make things seem very complicated and confusing. You’ll have a good idea that the lawyer is smart and seems to know what they are doing, so you’ll nod and answer questions as if you understand everything.
Because you want to do the right thing for your family, you’ll have the lawyer prepare your estate planning documents for you and you’ll sign everything, feeling relieved that you’ve gotten this aspect of your life taken care of.
You’ll take your fancy estate planning binder (or maybe just a stack of documents) home, stick it on a shelf or in a drawer, mark “estate planning” off of your checklist as DONE and never think about it again.
At some point, you will remember that your lawyer said something about moving your bank accounts into a trust. So you’ll go to the bank, forget what you were supposed to do, call your lawyer’s office, get a voicemail, have to leave the bank and wait for a callback, (which may take several hours, or sometimes days). By the time you do hear back, you’ll have gotten busy with other things and forget to go back to do whatever it was you were supposed to do with your bank account.
In the mean time…
Several weeks later you’ll get a bill in the mail for $67.50 for 15 minutes of your lawyer’s time for answering a couple of questions.
You’ll make a mental note – don’t call that lawyer ever again.
A couple of years later, you’ll refinance your house (or sell it and buy a new one), and forget that you were supposed to let your lawyer know about this transaction so that you could keep the title to your home in the name of your trust.
As the years go by, your children will get older, making your guardianship choices outdated, but you remain afraid to call your lawyer for fear of getting another bill in the mail.
You’ll hear something in the news about a change in the tax law, but you figure you’d surely get a letter in the mail from your lawyer if it was something important. You don’t worry about it. Besides, you would have to dig through boxes upon boxes to find your trust documents so you could remember your lawyer’s name and find their contact information.
Who has time for that?
At some point, you will become incapacitated or pass away. Your family will eventually find the estate planning binder that you stuck up on a shelf or buried in boxes several years before. They will begin to realize that your plan was so outdated that it has nothing to do with your life, your assets or the current state of the law.
Your family is at a loss. They don’t know who to turn to or what to do, so they contact the same lawyer you used to prepare your estate planning documents. This lawyer is just as happy as can be that he or she can now probate the assets that never made it into your trust because nobody was overseeing the funding process.
How do I know all this?
Because, as a lawyer practicing in Wake County for the past 7 years, I’ve gotten to know many of the other lawyers in this county, as well as hundreds of my own clients, and I’ve begun to develop a picture of how this process works.
I also hired a lawyer to draw up my own estate planning documents (before I started handling these cases on my own), and this was my exact experience… except I haven’t died yet (thankfully).
As a result, I’ve decided that I’m not going to let my clients go through this experience ever again.
The Seeds of Change are Planted
Since we first opened our doors in 2005, The Hart Law Firm has been primarily a family law firm. While we will still welcome family law clients to the firm, we now accept individuals and families who are looking to plan and prepare for their future, specifically in the event that they become incapacitated or pass away with young children at home.
Why now? Why estate planning?
One of the things we love about helping individuals going through the heartbreak of divorce is that we get to see the transformation they make from when they first come in to see us battered and broken to when we can help them start their new lives as single adults.
These transformations are truly amazing.
And what we’ve found is that many of our clients would ask for estate planning services after their divorce became final. Until now we’ve referred many of these clients to other lawyers. But then several things happened that forced us to take another look at adding estate planning as a way to serve our existing clients.
First, Jim’s mother passed away in January of 2016. For the first time in his adult life, Jim was forced to confront the tremendous grief that comes from losing a loved one. And not only that, Jim was thrust into the probate process in Ohio to deal with the legal aspects of his mother’s estate.
Needless to say, Jim learned a great deal about how his mother’s estate was structured, and what could have been done to make things a bit easier on Jim and his siblings. After his mother died, Jim was forced to, quite literally, pick a funeral home out of the yellow pages to prepare her body for the funeral.
The average funeral in the United States costs between $7,000 to $10,000. Fortunately for Jim and his siblings, they were able to afford to pay those fees on their own. But what if they couldn’t? What if Jim was an only child and couldn’t afford this price tag?
This would have been an embarrassing situation, to say the least, which could have been easily avoided with some proper estate planning.
Second, it didn’t fully hit Jim until several months after his Mother passed that her legacy and values and stories will someday be forgotten by Jim’s own children. His children were 5, 3, and 1 when Jim’s mother passed, and although his oldest may have some memories of her, the younger two most certainly will not.
Jim started thinking about the final conversations he had with his mother, in which she was either heavily sedated or in pain and riddled with cancer ravaging her body. Because her death came on so suddenly, and she refused to acknowledge that she was dying, Jim never had a good conversation with her about what she wanted her legacy to be. Jim never thought to record their conversations or potentially even videotape them. Jim has some voice mails from her, but that’s about it.
And finally, after dealing with all these issues surrounding the passing of his mother, Jim started to think about what would happen if his wife or even himself died suddenly. What would happen to their children? Who would care for them on a temporary basis? How would their memories be preserved?
This all lead Jim to the conclusion that he needed to offer estate planning services to his current family law clients, as well as the community at large.
How our Estate Planning Law Firm is Different from other Lawyers in Cary
Unlike other estate planning lawyers and law firms in Cary, North Carolina, we do not view estate planning as merely a transaction where we are paid a fee to produce some documents.
Honestly, if you are looking for a set of documents that you can throw in a drawer and forget about, then you might as well save your money and pay for those documents online.
(Actually, you probably don’t want to do that – but anyway…) You get the idea.
Since Jim first hung his shingle in 2005, his firm motto has been, “building relationships, one client at a time…” And Jim truly believes that. When you hire The Hart Law Firm to handle your estate planning needs, you are beginning a lifelong relationship with our firm. The legal documents we provide to you are merely a byproduct of that relationship.
Our primary goal is to provide you much more than just a set of legal documents. Rather, we provide our clients with peace of mind and helpful counsel.
We become a trusted advisor to our clients. We will work with you and your family through the years to create a lasting legacy, not just for your financial assets, but for your intellectual property as well – your stories, values and the vision of how you want your children and grandchildren to grow into amazing and productive adults.
With this backdrop, Jim began to reevaluate how his mother handled her estate planning and identified three major problem areas with the traditional planning model that The Hart Law Firm has chosen to focus on and attack head on:
1. Outdated Documents
First, Jim’s mother wrote her documents years ago. They were outdated. She had a basic will drawn up and not much else. She never shared her estate plan with either Jim or his siblings.
This was a big mistake. An estate plan is a living, breathing set of documents. And over time it may (and likely will) change. For that reason, we have set up a process where our clients can come back and revisit their plan at least every three years for no additional charge.
And if you are the type of person that likes more interaction, we have additional membership options that will allow you to come in annually to make any necessary changes. Not only that, but we encourage our clients, especially those with adult children, to bring those children into the process early on so that we can begin to build that relationship for when the unexpected happens.
2. Overuse of POD Provisions
Jim’s mother made extensive use of POD provisions with her bank accounts. POD means “payable on death”. The problem with these provisions is that when someone dies, their bank accounts are immediately frozen. The beneficiaries of these accounts, who may require immediate access to those accounts to pay for funeral expenses, rent, etc., are shut out of these much-needed funds.
This happened to Jim and his siblings. Because of the POD provisions, Jim’s mother’s accounts were shut down for several weeks until documentation could be submitted, allowing the bank to pay out the funds to the listed beneficiaries.
With some simple tweaks, your beneficiaries could have immediate access to your bank accounts to pay for funeral and related expenses immediately after your passing.
3. Failure to Do Legacy Planning
Finally, even in her final days, Jim’s mother refused to acknowledge that she was going to die. She thought she was going to beat her cancer until her final dying breath. And because of that, Jim never had the opportunity to record her voice and her stories and the values she wanted to leave to her grandchildren.
For that reason, here at The Hart Law Firm we’ve set up a process, called a Legacy Conversation, where we will record these stories and memories now so that you have preserved them for your children and loved ones later.
A Different Kind of Estate Planning Law Firm
If you can’t tell by now, we are a different kind of estate planning law firm. As a result, other estate planning lawyers might not like us. 😉
Consequently? We are shaking up the way estate planning is done here in the Triangle.
Here are just a few more of the things that we do differently from other estate planning law firms:
No Hourly Fees
Nothing we do is billed on an hourly basis.
Everything we do is billed on a flat-fee basis, agreed to in advance, so there are no surprises.
Our clients love this, and we do too. It doesn’t feel good to track of time in 6-minute increments. Time billing rewards inefficiency and provides a disincentive for clients to call their lawyer. As mentioned above, when a lawyer bills by the hour, clients stop calling because they are afraid of getting a bill in the mail.
Not at The Hart Law Firm.
We have chosen to encourage frequent and open communication with our clients. We’ve thrown out the time clocks so you will never be afraid to call with a quick question (or even a not so quick question).
The result? We can work proactively with our clients to eliminate problems before they arise. Other firms are always playing defense, handling client calls reactively when a crisis pops up.
We have found that our clients are happier and their legal fees are lower as a result of this one policy alone.
A Small Law Practice With Personal Attention
The Hart Law Firm is a small law practice in Cary, North Carolina. This allows us to provide more individualized attention and time to our clients than estate planning attorneys at larger firms would. In fact, with many of these firms, you will be dealing with the paralegal more than the attorney.
Once you become a client you will receive a personalized scheduling link so that you can call at a predetermined time and have the confidence of knowing that Mr. Hart will not only be available to talk to you but will be prepared to answer your questions during the call.
You won’t be dealing with Jim’s paralegal, you will be dealing with Jim.
The Beginning of a Lifetime Relationship
As we have alluded to before, many firms view estate planning as a one-time transactional event. At The Hart Law Firm, developing an estate plan is just the beginning of our relationship. Once you sign the documents, that is when the planning really begins.
How does this happen?
1. For no additional charge, we will review your plan with you at least once every three years. So even if you never pay us any more money after the initial plan, you are entitled to come in and talk to us at least every three years, for free, to discuss whether your plan needs updating.
2. Our Membership Programs. We have two levels of affordable membership programs that allow even more personalized attention to clients that elect to take advantage of these programs. Our gold and platinum programs provide annual plan reviews and legacy conversations, discounts off additional legal work and much more.
Why You Need an Estate Plan (A Note from the Founding Attorney)
On a personal level, I am a Husband and Father to three wonderful kids. You can check out my bio for more information about me.
This might be the most important takeaway from all this information. If you have read this far, you are clearly interested in putting together an estate plan for you and your family. The planning I’ve done for myself and the planning we can do for our clients isn’t really about you. It’s about creating a plan that’s going to take care of the people who you love the most when you become incapacitated or die, or as we like to say, “walk out on life”.
One thing we all know is that nobody knows when they are going to “walk out”. We believe that the experience of considering what could happen when you “walk out”, will offer you a deeper, more profound, and more meaningful experience in planning out your future.
Honestly, you won’t get the benefit of a lot of what we do here because you won’t be here when this plan is needed. Or you won’t be aware when the plan is needed. But the people who are closest to you and that you love the most will be very aware of what you have done, and the gift you have given them.
So that is really what my children bring to this whole process – the awareness that, if it weren’t our children or the people we love so much, you might not be here today, reading this information either.
Our Core Values
We understand that you are BUSY, that you are growing, and that you desire a life of prosperity for both you and your loved ones.
We also understand that you value ease, convenience, and efficiency.
You want the peace of mind that comes with knowing you have made the best possible decisions for your family during your lifetime and that your family will be left with the ease and awareness of just how much you loved them by virtue of how well you have prepared them for a life without you.
You want to make sure your children will be taken care of in the best way possible and will be properly prepared to receive your wealth when that time ultimately comes.
We believe that family wealth is so much more than just financial assets. It encompasses everything that you care about even more than money, including your values, your insights, your stories, your life experiences — in other words, your intellectual, spiritual and human assets.
As part of our planning process, we will guide you to consider and plan for these intellectual assets that are frequently lost when a loved one dies. We’ve developed a special tool called the Legacy Conversation to capture these assets for future generations.
All of this is included in our process.
Although we are just a small team now, we are growing.
We rely heavily on technology to serve you and keep you up to date on the status of your case.
We will ensure that the most important details of your planning are followed through with and help you to make sure your plan continues to work, throughout your lifetime.
Most lawyers only focus on transferring your financial wealth to the next generation; we focus on identifying and building your Legacy during your lifetime and leaving a legacy of love that goes far beyond money, and lasts long after you “walk out on life”.
We’ve developed a special tool called a Legacy Conversation that allows us to pass on your whole Family Wealth, including your Intellectual, Spiritual and Human assets.
Sounds Great, How Much Will This Cost?
If you think this all sounds expensive, well, you are right and you’re wrong.
Everything at our firm starts with a Wealth Planning Session. The Wealth Planning Session will offer you an opportunity to discuss your hopes and dreams for your family and your legacy with us. We will go over your current plan and answer any questions you may have about it.
We will discuss how things would play out if you were to walk out on your family now, with no further planning. If you don’t like what that would look like, then we will decide whether to move forward with your estate plan.
The Wealth Planning Session is worth its weight in gold because you’ll immediately feel more clear than you ever have before about what you really need and what you don’t really need when it comes to the lifelong well-being and care of your family.
And, you’ll only choose to invest in work beyond the Planning Session if doing so would save your family more money than it would cost.
Plus, we’ve made creative financing available to our clients so it can be affordable to all who want to be well-prepared for a life and legacy worth leaving.
Interested in Getting Started?
If you are interested in learning more about how The Hart Law Firm can help you, please feel free to call our office at (919) 883-4861 or click the link below to request more information.