The past few years have seen an unprecedented growth in Asset Protection planning. Unfortunately, this newfound interest in Asset Protection has created a large number of people seeking to profit from the buzz surrounding the field. The result is a puzzling and often fraud-ridden landscape of legal service providers claiming to be “Asset Protection Specialists”.
It seems every attorney who has attended even a single continuing legal education class on Asset Protection now feels qualified to implement tools and strategies that have far reaching and potentially economically fatal effects if misused or not completely understood. Unfortunately, anyone can add the words “Asset Protection” to their resume or website. But a review of the websites of many small and mid-size law firms that have recently tacked this area onto their websites will reveal that that their “expert” is also listed in a number of other categories, like litigation, corporate law, contracts, employment, real estate, etc. This tells us that they don’t have enough work in any single category to have a focused practice and they will handle anything that comes across their desk. This is appropriate for some simple, general legal issues, but not Asset Protection Planning.
Since its inception, Chhokar Law Group, P.C. has focused exclusively on Asset Protection and Estate Planning. The fact of the matter is that the two areas of practice are inexorably linked. The best Estate Planning in the world is useless, if one has nothing to pass on. Further, Asset Protection generally cannot and should not be done in a vacuum. No judge in the country will ever say to someone, “You should not have done your Estate Planning, and done it extremely well.”
Furthermore, Asset Protection Planning must by definition combine Estate Planning, Estate Tax, Gift Tax, Generation Skipping Tax and Income Tax Planning. So why would anyone work with an attorney who at a minimum does not have a Masters in Tax Law and who is not a Certified Specialist in Estate Planning, Probate and Trust Law by the California State Bar Board of Legal Specialization? Unfortunately, too often we know that the reason is that the Attorney who convinces them to move forward is simply an extremely good sales person. However in the law, education and experience do matter.
Potential clients who are concerned about their wealth and the level of exposure have often approached me to review their current structure. After a thorough review and the delivery of a specific plan to protect them they often go back to their existing legal team (that allowed them to get where they are today without protection) to get their input. What is stunning is the number of attorneys who will review an expert’s plan, make a couple of minor comments or changes and then say, “Yes you need some more planning, we can do that”.
Far too often, these attorneys will buy a primer on Asset Protection, attend a continuing education lunch or co-counsel with an attorney they might know thorough a friend of a friend in another community. Asset protection is not a turn–key system that can be applied in the same manner across the board to every client. So why would we trust the co-counseling attorney outside San Diego, who doesn’t know you or your family to provide the level of service that you deserve? Did your San Diego attorney even inform you that they use a co-counsel? The end result is that the work product will often be lacking and the clients are left exposed. In short, if the previous attorney knew the clients’ assets and liabilities, why did they wait years until the clients themselves suggested Asset Protection Planning? If your lawyer didn’t know enough about Asset Protection to put a plan in place, or at least suggest it, then they certainly don’t know enough to put it in place now.