FIRM STORY- VM Gokea Law Group PLLC
I started my legal career in corporate America at AT&T patent litigation department, working as an attorney specializing in intellectual property, but never felt that my work made a difference in people’s lives. I went to law school to better understand my new country and the American way of life and to help other people just like me. When my mother and brother needed immigration assistance they received conflicting advice, thus, I decided to immerse into the study of immigration law and to open my own practice to represent people just like me and their families.
Thereafter, when a dear friend lost her battle with cancer I was shocked to discover that the documents created by an attorney were not protecting her kids or her wishes, because the guardianship nominations made in the will, needed the will to be approved by a court and a judge. I realized that regular estate planning practices were not providing a service, but just some forms and people simply weren’t being served in the way that I thought they should be.
I swore I would never let this happen to another family again, if I could help it.
In my friend’s case, a single mother who passed-away due to cancer and left behind two minor children ages 13 & 14, some documents were created by an attorney, but there were no temporary guardians for her minor children, and the permanent guardians nominated in her Will were non-American citizens living outside the United States. Her Will went through the court process while her kids were in the care of strangers, the New Jersey social services.
The children’s terrifying experience could have been avoided if the attorney generating my friend’s Will would have created documents naming temporary guardians for the children here in the U.S. until her relatives arrived from overseas to take over the kids.
Furthermore, the non-American guardians had to hire an attorney and go to court while having a very hard time convincing the judge they will raise the kids in the USA, otherwise the judge would not grant guardianship of the children to them.
It was a devastating experience for the kids and an expensive undertaking for the guardians. As it turned out, the guardians had to spend more than $25,000 on attorney fees in order to take guardianship of my friend’s kids.
I thought this was malpractice, but I discovered that this was common practice for the estate planning attorney not being familiar with non-American guardianship.
My friend, as a single parent, went to see an attorney to do her estate planning before she became ill. As most of the estate planning attorneys, her attorney was charging hourly rates and she was charged for each phone call, for each question. When my friend became ill she didn’t call the attorney to discuss her illness and review her estate plan being worried about receiving more bills in the mail. She thought her estate plan was going to protect her kids and her assets. At no time her attorney contacted her to make sure the family circumstances were unchanged or to review her plan in 10 years.
Also, a Revocable Living Trust paperwork was prepared for her, but no one gave her any guidance or instructions to fund the trust (re-title the assets in the name of the trust) and left the actual work of changing title to my friend. As a result, the transfers in the Trust were never completed and the newly acquired assets were not owned in the name of the Trust.
So even though she spent thousands of dollars to create a plan to protect her kids and her assets, at the time of her death, when her kids needed the most protection, the plan intended to avoid court proceedings did not work. This was exactly what she spent thousands of dollars to avoid. You’d think this was malpractice, but sadly this is common practice.
Her attorney did not keep in touch with her and did not know about her illness; he did not make certain the Trust was funded; he did not plan for temporary guardians until the permanent guardians nominated in the Will arrived from overseas; did not accomplish the purpose of the estate plan to protect the kids and their wellbeing as intended. Her attorney created just some forms that were good enough 10 years prior to her death.
With my friend’s experience in mind I immersed into studying Estate Planning and decided to represent my clients in a total different way. This is what we do differently at VM Gokea Law:
1. We charge a flat fee. Nothing we do is billed on an hourly basis. We’ll always agree to a flat fee in advance of the engagement so you’ll never have any surprises about what something will cost you. You can call us and ask your questions without receiving a bill in the mail. We know that you’ll need to communicate with us during your lifetime about changes to your plan, changes to your life and assets, and we will communicate with you regularly about changes in the law. In fact, you can expect to hear from us every week in our email newsletter and our monthly newsletter by mail.
2. We do not leave the ownership of your assets to chance. We have an entire team to 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 the client’s 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. We keep in touch and emphasize an ongoing maintenance and education that supports your estate plan. Since everything constantly changes, you cannot expect a plan to accomplish what it was intended to accomplish if it is never updated. The costs of failing to update are far greater than the costs of keeping plans current. We place great emphasis and importance on establishing a structured and systematized process to creating and maintaining your estate plan. These systems provide you with a process to manage the inevitable changes that occur in the law, your family, and your finances. We don’t look at a plan as something that you do once and then never look at again. We look at a plan, and the signing of your plan documents, as the beginning of a lifetime relationship that you have with our law firm.
That’s really what makes us different. We make sure your plan will work when is most needed.