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Firm Story

What made me change my career after 20 years of being a litigator to helping families, and LGBTQIA+ community?

Even in law school estate planning was such a foreign concept for me personally. I never understood back then how I (an unmarried single woman – a student saddled with debt) would ever need estate planning. Admittedly, I was pretty naïve and even short-sighted back then.

So I became a litigator.  For 20 years, that was all I did. I spent my client’s money to fight their cases in court – often fighting judges, opposing counsel, opposing parties, and sometimes, in rare cases, even my clients!  Needless to say, it wore me down.  While I was very good at what I did and had a lot of financial success, not to mention many good wins for my clients, litigation wore me down.  The hourly billing grind, constantly chasing my own fees, and the adversarial nature of every case as we got closer and closer to trial. I started thinking, “there has to be more to helping people than this feeling I’m left with at the end of every case.”  It honestly never occurred to me that I could ever change my practice area, so because it afforded me a lifestyle, I pushed ahead thinking this was THE only path while true enjoyment of my work was in the rearview mirror.

But that all changed when COVID-19 hit us all.  A once in a lifetime, pandemic with no end in sight.

We ALL know someone that was impacted by COVID-19, and if not personally, we certainly saw enough news stories to understand what care givers, individuals, and families were going through.

When the world started grappling with what it means to really deal with the amount of physical loss and financial devastation around us, I began to really reconcile what I was doing that was helping anyone else – and the answer was “NOTHING.”  I could no longer envision myself doing litigation for the rest of my career and started looking for ways to HELP.  Remember Mr. Fred Rogers who always said, “look for the helpers.”  I wanted to be someone that people looked to help minimize their worry and concerns about the future.

I kept imaging what is was like for young families or that unmarried couple to think about having to deal with probate, guardianship, lawyers, courts, conflict – all while grieving the incapacity or loss of their beloved family members.  Not to mention hiring a lawyer and paying hourly fees upwards of $300, $400, or even $500 an hour or more. Without a plan for the future, what would happen to their family or their loved one’s assets and memories?

These thoughts prompted my change to becoming a Personal Family Lawyer.

Just like you, my clients love their families, partners, children… they have assets to protect and memories to be shared for generations to come. They aren’t necessarily your traditional family – they are same-sex couples, single-parent or co-parent households, unmarried couples with/without children, pet parents, polyamorous families and so much more.

What makes my firm different from other estate planners you may encounter? First, our fees are fixed and you select the fee you want to pay based on the plan you want drafted. There are no hidden or hourly fees beyond what we agree to.  In my years of litigation I realized that the lawyer’s hourly fee model is broken. Charging clients for every six minutes spent on their case meant clients didn’t want to spend a lot of time to talking to me because they knew they would be slapped with a big invoice at the end of the month.  That won’t happen to you.  The price we agree on is the price you pay. Second, we want you to check in with us when a major life event happens and you think your plan may need updating. We are not just drafting your documents for you, we want to maintain a continuous relationship with you and your family for years to come and we will discuss with you how our membership program works.  Not too many lawyers offer that!

And finally, when I said we aren’t just drafting documents for you, I meant it.  We want to work with you to help preserve your legacy and the things that really matter to you.  This is very personal to me. When my father passed in 2016, he didn’t have any assets, but he had a lifetime’s worth of artwork that he had created. My father was an artist in every sense of the word.  He was unmarried but had a partner who didn’t know what to do with this artwork when he died because they didn’t have any planning in place.  Of course my Brother and I wanted to keep some of my father’s art in memory of him. What we didn’t want was for the artwork to be gifted to strangers or languish in some storage unit somewhere unable to be displayed joyfully. We were lucky and we were able to work it out with my dad’s partner, but it wasn’t easy.  And that’s why our plans include legacy planning; because it isn’t always about the high ticket items — it’s about your legacy. If my father had a will or a trust we would’ve known exactly what he wanted to do with the artwork instead of guessing and leaving it in the hands of someone we didn’t know well.  I wish I would have done something for him sooner, and I will always regret that.

Planning With Wakefield Law Firm

When you call, if you don’t get me on the phone, you’ll get a member of my team to help answer any questions that you may have.  You and I will meet to do your original plan design at a Family Wealth Planning Session which will take place in my office, in your home, or over zoom – at your convenience. This meeting will take approximately 2 hours and we will answer all of your questions in detail.

Before that meeting your will be asked to fill out a questionnaire that will help assist me with understanding your assets and your family dynamics. At the design meeting we will go through all the options for your plan and we will discuss how to move assets into your Trust, if you should choose a trust based plan.  We offer options to assist with that.  Then, we will schedule a follow up meeting for about 4 weeks out to sign your documents in front of a notary public.  Before signing you will have an opportunity to confirm your information in a document called a “Confirmation of Important and Missing Information”.  Once this is completed, your plan will be finalized. 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. These are valuable because every time you make a major life change we can help with changes to your plan or just a call to answer questions about the impact of the change.

After your plan is drafted, we will help you create memories (included in every plan) where we guide you to pass on more than your money, but also your intellectual, spiritual and human assets. We include that with every plan and our clients and their families love having that as part of their plan.

These are just a few of the things that make our firm different. We’re the best fit for people who don’t just want to leave their family a set of documents that may or may not work, but instead want to use the estate planning process to pass on a legacy of love and care and ease. And keep their family out of court and out of conflict.

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