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Understanding the Complexities of Estate Planning With Gary Altman

August 30, 2023   |   Written by Gladiator Law Marketing
Gary Altman Gary AltmanGary Altman is the Founder and Principal Attorney at Altman & Associates, a law firm specializing in estate, legacy, and business planning. Having been in the field since 1980, Gary brings over three decades of experience to the practice. His firm serves the Washington metropolitan area, guiding individuals, couples, high-net-worth families, corporate fiduciaries, businesses, and charitable organizations. His expertise extends to complex estate matters, including contested estates and trusts, probate matters, and the generational transfer of wealth. Nationally recognized as an authority in his field, Gary has been acknowledged by the Washingtonian magazine and Bethesda magazine as one of the DC, Maryland region’s “Best Estate Planners.” A trusted legal analyst, Gary’s insights and writings have appeared in The Washington Post, The NY Times, The Wall Street Journal, and FOX News, among other outlets.
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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • Gary Altman talks about what Altman & Associates specializes in
  • What does estate planning mean?
  • When should people start thinking about estate planning?
  • How charitable gifts minimize tax
  • The different trust administration laws between states
  • Gary shares what motivated him to start his firm
  • Marketing strategies that attract clients to the firm
  • Gary’s advice for aspiring lawyers

In this episode…

Estate planning is a crucial yet often misunderstood topic. Although not the most sought-after nuance in the legal industry, estate planning is arguably the most critical facet from the client’s perspective. Have you considered what will become of your assets when you pass away? Is it too early or too late to start planning? Consider how your loved ones will be affected by your passing away. Not only will your family be grieving your loss, but they’ll also be burdened with putting your affairs in order. Gary Altman, a lawyer with over 30 decades of experience, asserts it’s never too early to start estate planning. As your family and assets evolve, you must update your will as often as necessary. Planning ahead leaves less for your loved ones to decide on your behalf. In this episode of 15 Minutes, host Bela Musits engages in a profound conversation with Gary Altman, Founder and Principal Attorney of Altman & Associates, about the intricate world of estate planning. Gary explains why estate planning extends beyond a written will, the significance of tax implications, and the crucial role of specialists in this domain. He also shares his inspiring journey of establishing his firm and his golden nuggets of advice for budding lawyers in the field.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by Gladiator Law Marketing, where we deliver tailor-made services to help you accomplish your objectives and maximize your growth potential. To have a successful marketing campaign and make sure you’re getting the best ROI, your firm needs to have a better website and better content. At Gladiator Law Marketing, we use artificial intelligence, machine learning, and decades of experience to outperform the competition. To learn more, go to gladiatorlawmarketing.com or schedule a free marketing consultation. You can also send an email to adam@gladiatorlawmarketing.com.

Episode Transcript

Intro  0:01   You’re listening to 15 Minutes, where we feature community leaders sharing what the rest of us should know, but likely don’t. Bela Musits  0:12   Hi, listeners. I’m Bela Musits, host for this episode of the 15 Minutes share your voice podcast, where we talk with top notch law firms and attorneys about what it takes to grow a successful law practice. This episode is brought to you by Gladiator Law Marketing, delivering tailor made services to help your law firm accomplish its objectives and maximize your growth potential to have a successful marketing campaign. And to make sure you’re getting the best return on investment, your firm needs to have a better website and better content. Gladiator Law Marketing uses artificial intelligence, machine learning and decades of experience to outperform the competition. To learn more, go to gladiatorlawmarketing.com where you can schedule a free marketing consultation. Today’s guest on the podcast is attorney Gary Altman. He is the founder and principal attorney of the estate planning law firm, Altman & Associates, which is a division of frost law. Gary has been practicing law and estate planning since 1980. As a trusted legal analyst, Gary has lent his expertise and authored articles for a wide range of media outlets, including the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Fox News, and many more. Welcome to the podcast, Gary. Gary Altman  1:35   Thank you. Bela Musits  1:37   My first question here is can you tell us a little bit about Altman & Associates and sort of what you guys do? Gary Altman  1:43   So we are an estate planning law firm or boutique, where we work with individuals to transfer wealth to the next generation, minimizing taxes along the way, hassle, making sure the inheritance is protected from bad things that could happen such as divorces, lawsuits, and creditors. Bela Musits  2:03   Yeah. So let’s dive in a little bit. What does estate planning mean? I mean, we’ve all heard that phrase, we’ve heard about, yeah, protecting our assets from taxes and other types of things that try to take them away. But let’s, let’s just peel that back a little bit, can you give us a little bit more. Gary Altman  2:20   So estate planning is listening to my clients, finding out what bothers them, or what their family situation is like. And then determining what type of documents we need to draft and fund in order to accomplish their goals. So the most simplest way to think about it is, while you’re alive, you need someone to make medical decisions for you if you can’t, or financial decisions for if you can’t, so you draft a document. That’s called the power of attorney or a Medical Directive. So someone can do that for you. So the most important question in those documents is who do you trust to make those decisions. And then when someone dies, they should have a will, in order to direct where their property goes. If they do not have a will, then the state has a will for you. So normally, if you die, and you do have no kids, your parents get your assets. If you have no parents just siblings get your assets. That may be okay or may not be depending on how you feel about your family, then it gets more complicated and more comprehensive. So that people use other techniques to protect assets from creditors, protect your assets from your own creditors or protect your the assets you give away from the creditors or the person you give them to to minimize maybe your state taxes. Now, that’s not going to be a big thing for most people today, the amount that passes free of federal estate tax this year is $12,920,000 for an individual, but double that for married couples. But on January 1 2026, that number is going to be cut in half. So a lot of planning is being done throughout the country and with my clients and others and how to use up that exemption before it’s cut in half. Okay. It also sometimes we are planning will do to minimize income taxes. For instance, if someone owns a C Corp, there’s a way in which they can sell that C Corp shares and avoid paying capital gains tax on the gain of the shares that’s called to qualified Small Business stock. And then there’s other taxes that can involve the hit as a gift tax is something called the generation skipping tax. So planning this Sometimes avoiding or minimizing those taxes. Yeah. And then the most important thing was who’s going to get your assets? Do you have a family? That’s everyone likes each other? Is your goal to make sure they’re going to have Thanksgiving dinners after you’re gone? But you’re not care about that? Or do your kids not get along? Or, you know, I have clients who they, you know, they haven’t spoken to their children or one of their child in years. Yeah, why would they give them any assets, if they don’t, if the kid does said, I don’t want to talk to you ever again. So planning is all of that listening and making sure that documents are in place. And then the second aspect is, is making sure your assets are coordinated with the documents, so I can have the greatest document in a world. And but if my IRA beneficiary says, Give everything to my ex wife, then she gets it and not my kids. So we have to make sure the beneficiary designations are correct. The assets are titled correctly. Bela Musits  6:02   Right, my boy sounds like a lot of stuff to kind of think about, and assets, you know, people think about assets as, okay, it’s my house, and maybe my cars, maybe some IRA accounts, but it’s really much larger and larger than that, isn’t it? Gary Altman  6:16   Well, financial assets are everything you own. So that includes cars, stuff in your house, bank accounts, brokerage accounts, IRAs, things like that, but but some people go a little bit farther and take about assets is what they can give to their family in terms of advice and guidance, and how they made the wealth and how they want their family to use the wealth after they’re gone, somehow to create a legacy for themselves. Bela Musits  6:49   Okay, and and what if someone owns a business? Does that make this whole thing more complicated? Gary Altman  6:56   Well, yes, it makes it more complicated. whether the business is selling widgets or real estate. The larger businesses, the more you’re worried about liquidity when someone dies, because you have to have the money to pay the tax. So I’ll give you an example. Example, I have a client, she she’s worth about $40 million. But she has multiple different interests in real estate ventures. And when she dies, we’re going to have to pay about 20 million in tax, but we have no, we may not have enough liquidity to pay the tax, we have to plan to get the liquidity to pay the tax. Also, if you have a business and you have two kids, should they operate it equally? Or not? Okay. It’s usually better for the patriarch or the matriarch to choose one child to be in charge. It doesn’t usually work well, when two or three people have equal authority. Bela Musits  8:03   Yeah, yeah. So. And I imagine that if I come to you, and say, hey, look, I have a business. And you know, I want to I want to leave the all my assets to my two kids. And then you’ve probably seen a lot of these examples where you can sort of give me some advice or suggestions about, well, maybe you don’t want to leave the business 50-50 to both of them. Maybe you want to, you know, like you said, make one of them in charge of something and maybe a different one in charge of something else. And that’s okay to do. Alright, so I’m sure you, you’ve seen a lot of battle scars, where you can help people realize some of the complications involved, if, if of what maybe they might be proposing. Gary Altman  8:53   Now, experience is really important. I mean, we’ve worked with probably 5000 people over the last 30 years. And I am surprised once in a while by something I haven’t seen before. But almost everything comes back again. And the more you’ve done planning for more the more people the more you’re able to give the better advice for the next person who comes in the door. Bela Musits  9:16   Yeah. Now at what phase of someone’s life is it important to start thinking about these things? I mean, I think I think most people think about it, okay. Later in life, I’m getting into my 60s or 70s. You know, I’m seeing the end of the runway, and people start to focus on this. Is that the right time or should people start doing it earlier? Gary Altman  9:39   So if you are planning is life insurance. It’s protecting your family from a disaster. And recently, we have seen that play out in real life. a client’s daughter was murdered a week ago, oh my gosh, by her husband, and he committed suicide, and they didn’t have a will. Or any documents and trying to navigate through that to family’s grief. You know, if you’re trying to grieve, right? And now you have to deal with what’s going to happen, and there’s no guidance. And then I had it happened again last week where someone’s twin brother died without any planning. And he was estranged from his mother. And the mother would be in charge and get everything instead of his brother, who they basically, you know, so when should you do this? I think you need to do it as soon as you can. Even if simple. You know, just, you know, I mean, that guy who was had a twin brother, who was 14 years old, he could have done a will that said, I leave everything to my brother, period. Yeah, I mean, it didn’t have to be expensive along. But it has to be something. So we’d like to say you should plan early and plan often. And it’s a continuing process. It’s not a product. And it evolves as your family life evolves, as your assets evolve as you evolve. Bela Musits  11:34   I see. So I think the other thing I just heard you say is this notion of, okay, if I called you up, and we sat down, and we drew up these papers, then periodically or whenever there’s a change in in the situation in my life, it’s time to revisit it. And it makes sure that that’s still what we what we wrote down five years ago still make sense? Gary Altman  11:55   That’s correct. Correct. And the laws change both tax laws and state laws regarding trust regarding wills, regarding powers of attorney, so you need to keep your documents up to date. Sometimes clients asked me as to what’s changed? Why do I need to do so? And my answer usually is, I can’t tell you if it’s going to make a difference. But if it didn’t make a difference, and we didn’t update it, then it’s going to be a disaster. Yeah. Yeah. Bela Musits  12:25   And is there sort of a financial number and asset value of assets? where this starts making sense to do or and below that it really doesn’t matter? Or is it important in almost any case? Gary Altman  12:47   Obviously, if you had $10,000, it may not be very important. But it may be important to you. So it’s more in the eye of the beholder, relatively my I, I, you know, our practice is pretty high net worth. So we don’t see a lot of people with assets under a couple $100,000. But, you know, I have a couple of clients who don’t have a lot, but they have children with special needs. Yeah. And so even though you don’t have a lot, you want to make sure it’s going to be used appropriately. Excellent point, you die. Bela Musits  13:25   Yeah. Because back to your one of your original statements was, if you don’t have some of these documents, then the state is going to decide where these things go, which may not be to your kids or to your best interest. That is correct. Yes. Got it. Okay. So that’s a great point. I haven’t thought about that, before that even even individuals who may not think they have a lot of assets. Well, I don’t have to worry about that. I, I know that when I when I leave this world, it’s not going to get taxed, because it’s below that magic number. But that’s, that’s just one part of it. Right? It’s sort of making sure that things that you want to see happen, happen once you’re gone? Gary Altman  14:04   That’s absolutely correct. Bela Musits  14:05   Now, how does how do sort of gifts to charitable organizations play into this? Gary Altman  14:11   Well, if someone has some charitable intent, then they can use that intent while they’re alive, to give stuff to charity and minimize tax. The simplest way to think about that is you give appreciated stock to your favorite charity, or you there’s something called a qualified charitable distribution from your IRA. When you reach a certain age, you’re able to give your required minimum distribution to charity instead of taking it yourself. You don’t get a deduction but you don’t pay the tax. And, and the reason why that’s important is a lot of our a lot of the provisions in our tax laws are based upon your income. So if you give away your, your IRA after you receive it, you Got the income, and then maybe your Social Security will be taxed. But if you give it away, before you give it get it, it’s not in your income and maybe Social Security will not be taxed. And then there are certain types of planning techniques we can use, that will minimize your estate tax or income tax, but still provide benefits to your family. got it got it. Bela Musits  15:25   Now is every state different because of their tax laws are different when it comes to these types of matters. Gary Altman  15:33   So every state is different for probably a couple different reasons. First off, there are three different property regimes in this country. Most most of the country is what’s called the Common Law regime, which means you can control where your assets go, and there’s no law about it. Louisiana is the old French code. And so there they have, it actually tells you who has to get your assets, there’s ways to override it, but it’s more difficult. And then there’s something called community property states like California, Texas, and about nine others. And there, they basically say every asset you make while you’re married, is is owned equally, but individually. So each one owns half of every asset earned while marriage, then there are states that have their own estate tax, or an inheritance tax. Pretty much if you look, you go from Washington, DC, north, and then a little bit west, all over the top of the country. Those states have maybe some most of those having a tax, either inheritance tax or estate tax. But if and when you go south of Washington, DC, and then you follow West and keep going south, they don’t have an estate tax. Okay. And then there are different laws regarding probate, which is how people press that how you transfer assets at death, different laws regarding asset protection for your own self. Yeah, different laws regarding how trusts will be administered, and what you have to do with trusts. Yeah, every state has a different law accustomed regarding powers of attorney, and medical directives, so that if someone signs one in Washington, DC, or Maryland, or Virginia, the three states are usually practicing, and then they move to Colorado, the documents still valid, but they may not recognize it in Colorado, so it may not be effective, even though it’s valid. Bela Musits  17:52   So I’m not sure I totally understand that subtlety. Gary Altman  17:55   It’s it’s very subtle. So So Maryland, for instance, has a statutory form for its power of attorney. If you were in New York, and then you move to Maryland, in New York, they have what’s called a short form power of attorney, where you just basically it’s one page, you check boxes, because the state law says what those boxes mean, that documents valid. Got it? Right. He moved to Maryland, and you take that power of attorney form to your local to a bank here, they’re going to look at and say, I don’t know what this means. So I’m not going to I can and honor it. I can’t honor it. Yeah. Yeah. Florida has a totally different Medical Directive than Maryland. Okay, so again, if you had the Maryland when you went to Florida, it’s not as comprehensive as to Florida. Florida has what’s called a standby guardianship. Maryland does not. So there are subtleties in the states that need to be taken care of when you move to a different Yeah. Bela Musits  19:05   Yeah. So again, it just reinforces the whole point of you really need a person who specializes in this area. Because you have to understand all these things, and maybe your general practitioner may not understand all of these issues, and and you’re going to end up in a place where you’re going to be surprised, possibly. Gary Altman  19:27   Yes, that is what I believe. Bela Musits  19:29   Yeah, excellent. So let’s talk a little bit and switch gears here. Let’s talk a little bit about why you started the firm. Gary Altman  19:41   So um, why I started my firm was because planning or estate planning in most law firms is not respected or given its do it is now At a high profit area. And it’s more intensive work in many ways than other areas of the law, you have to know a little bit about everything to be a really good estate planning attorney. And it’s very time intensive to do it correctly. So I went to a law firm, and I hoping that I would be able to have a practice inside of a firm that did other things. It didn’t work out. And so I decided I needed to leave. And the best option was opening my own firm. And I did that on September 1 1996. In essence, I started with myself and one assistant. Next day, in 1997, I hired a lawyer to help me and that attorney base is still with me now. And we just grew slowly every year. But, and just trying to do the right thing for each client, trying to make sure that we follow up with each client and that the little details are taken care of. Yeah, yeah. Bela Musits  21:21   So I think what you said just now about, you know, doing what’s right for each client, taking care of the little details, is probably I can imagine one of the things that distinguishes you from the other law firms that are in this practice area. Gary Altman  21:35   It distinguishes Yes, it absolutely does. In most most of estate planning attorneys get maybe enough work for themselves and one assistant. Okay. The way we do things, and it’s granted, it’s referred to me, but it’s really referred to all of us, because I couldn’t have done what I do without the support, and the knowledge and expertise of the folks who work with me. But I basically generate or bring in enough work for five attorneys. And we and I think that’s because I we try to do the right thing for everyone. We don’t overcharge. We respond quickly to our client’s needs and concerns. And we work closely with our clients, other advisors, whether they’re CPAs, or financial advisors, or insurance agents, and we don’t have an ego about what we do. Because if someone has a better idea, that’s fine. Bela Musits  22:51   Yeah. Yeah, very nice. Now, as far as how do you find clients at work, you know, how do they how did they kind of come into the firm? Gary Altman  23:04   So long time ago, I had a lunch with a financial advisor. And that financial advisor was older than me, though, if I think about it. Now, he was probably younger than I am now. And he any, and he was very blunt. And he said, you know that he had a great practice, and lots of clients. And then he, and then he just sat back. And now 10 years later, he seemed as if he had to go back out and try to get clients because his clients either moved or die. Yeah. So I realized from that conversation, that I can never stop marketing, or meeting new people. So I spend a large part of my day or life meeting with folks who can refer me business or I can use them for my clients. And so I do a lot of business development or networking. I do that in many different ways. But I also realized that it doesn’t work. If I meet a new financial advisor, and I say, hey, you need to refer your clients to me, because I’m the best. I’m not. That’s not the way it works. Right? You have to get in relationship with people. You’re going to refer business or clients to folks who you trust and who you like. Yeah, absolutely. So the best way to think about that is I joined an organization 19 918 90. Yeah, that’s about right. It was a financial planning organization. I had gotten my what’s called certified financial planning designation years prior. I don’t do any of that. But I had the designation. So I joined the board. And I just met people. And I just became a resource for them. If someone would call me up and say, I have this client, what would you do? I tell him, or I saw this document, it doesn’t look right. Can you look at it? Sure. Hey, I helped people. And over the years, some of those folks became good friends of mine. Some of them referred me business. I don’t know. I get clients today from folks I’ve never met. Because they’ve heard my name from someone else. I get clients from folks who I’ve known for years. I like to tell. Three years ago, a CPA I’ve known for 30 years, calls me up and says, I have a client. I’d like you to meet them, because they need someone like you. This CPA had never referred anyone to me ever. That client became an accountant for 5% of my revenue next year. Wow. So I always think you have to be kind to people. You have to always respond to them. I think 95% of networking is showing up. And just being seemed enough, yeah. Yeah. Bela Musits  26:33   Oh, that’s awesome. Great thoughts. Great thoughts. Gary, thank you so much for sharing that with our audience. So let me ask you one other question here before we start wrapping up. If you were giving some advice to let’s say you were giving a graduation talk at a law school graduation, you know, a commencement talk, or you were giving advice to an attorney who’s maybe been out practicing for a couple of years, what advice would you give them? Gary Altman  27:02   One, find the smartest person you know, in the area in which you work with and get to know that person. So you can have someone you can ask questions of, that can be someone in your firm or someone not in your firm, to realize that, if you have clients, if you can generate clients who control your life, if you can’t generate clients who have no control. So you need to learn how to generate clients on your own. So you have control. And you’re going to do that in a ways that you feel good. So whatever you’re passionate about, you can be passionate about playing tennis, okay? I’ll go play tennis with everyone you can get to know them. You’ll get business from it. If you if you want to if you’d like, you know, if you want to have charitable, you know, go join a charitable board. Meet people, you’ll get business from it. Don’t ask for the business, they’ll just get to know you. Right. When you go on vacation. Talk to people. Hey, when you will go into a store, talk to people join a committee in the local bar association. Meet other lawyers, hey, lawyers need lawyers are the great referral sources. Because if they don’t do what you do, you know, then they need someone because they’re going to have a client and they’re gonna want to refer to someone who doesn’t, isn’t going to compete with. Yeah. And yeah, so, you know, if you, you know, you know, I mean, I know, people who have joined organizations like heating and cooling organizations, they don’t do that. But if they’re there, they’re there. Right? No, you. Right. Right. So, and that really the best you can. Yeah, it’s not about making money tomorrow. It’s about doing the right thing you can for every client if you do the right thing. And you do it well. Clients will come. Bela Musits  29:19   Excellent. Excellent. Excellent advice, Gary. So where can listeners find out more about Altman & Associates? Where’s the best place? Gary Altman  29:28   We have a website. It’s altmanassociates.net. And there’s also askfrost.com. Those are the two easiest ways. I also have a Twitter account where we post stuff and LinkedIn and people can find me and both of those also. Bela Musits  29:49   Great, well, we’ll make sure all of that information is in the show notes. Now, Gary, is there something that I have not asked you that you’d like to share with our audience? Gary Altman  30:00   Wow, that’s a good question. You’ve been very thorough. But you didn’t ask me if I like what I do. Bela Musits  30:08   Well, I can just sort of tell you like what you do. Right. I don’t see it in your face. Gary Altman  30:13   So that’s the other thing. I think you got to be passionate about what you do. Yeah, it’s a passion. It does. You know, you wake up in the morning. You want to go do it. Yeah. I don’t like the business of law. But I love practicing law. Bela Musits  30:31   Yeah. Excellent. Excellent. Well, hey, Gary, thank you so much for being a guest on the podcast. I really enjoyed our conversation. Gary Altman  30:39   It’s my pleasure. My pleasure. Thank you very much for having me. Outro  30:44   Thanks for listening to 15 Minutes, be sure to subscribe and we’ll see you next time.

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