Kyle Manikas // Attorney
My goal is to be your trusted advisor who helps you make the very best personal, financial, and legal decisions for your family throughout your lifetime. I want to help you not just now, but also when you can’t be there so that I can help guide your loved ones through a difficult process.
Having spent more than 20 years as an attorney representing clients in litigation, I understand how important it is to keep my clients out of court and conflict. To understand why this is so important, let me tell you about Milo.
Milo, who was not a wealthy man, hired a lawyer to assist him with estate planning. That lawyer did what the vast majority of lawyers do – simply provided Milo with a set of standardized and formulaic will and trust documents and sent him on his way. A classic recipe for creating a plan that will fail when it is needed most. Milo believed he had his affairs in order.
Several years later, Milo was living in Arizona with his stepdaughter. Milo also had a son who lived in California.
Milo began to suffer from dementia and his stepdaughter began to ask him for money. Milo got more and more uncomfortable with the situation, so he asked his son to take control of his affairs. However, given that Milo had done estate planning the traditional way, he just had a bunch of outdated documents in a drawer. Greg didn't know what to do and the case ended up in court.
Greg felt that the estate wasn't big enough for an outside compensated financial guardian. Therefore, Greg asked the court to appoint him as an uncompensated guardian over Milo’s person so that he could get him the appropriate care and ensure that Milo’s stepdaughter would no longer interact with him in ways that made Milo uncomfortable. However, the court determined that Greg could not be appointed as the guardian of his father's estate. Worse yet, the court chose to appoint an outside financial guardian of its own choosing for Milo’s estate. The court ordered that the outside financial guardian would be paid for by Milo’s modest estate.
Milo’s estate ended up being completely drained of all its assets as a result of unnecessary court hearings and huge billings. Worse yet, the court appointed financial guardian, to save assets for the court process, insisted that Milo be taken out of the care facility that he was comfortable in and put into a less expensive lock-down facility where Milo would not even be allowed to go outdoors. The savings from this placement meant that there was more money from Milo’s pension and Social Security available to be diverted to the financial guardian. Sadly, the judge who was hearing the case instructed the clerk of court to bar Greg from filing any additional motions to challenge the situation. When Greg attempted to move Milo out of state, he was charged criminally.
What happened to Milo is unconscionable. These types of scenarios play out across the country – not just where someone has cognitive decline like Milo, or is incapacitated as a result of an auto accident or work-related injury, but where people pass away without having taken the proper steps.
What makes Milo’s situation so infuriating is that he had previously hired a lawyer to take the steps necessary to avoid this nightmare scenario. Remarkably, what Milo’s lawyer did (or didn’t do) is likely not considered legal malpractice. In fact, what he did is the accepted standard in much of the legal field.
In many law firms, estate planning consists of recycling previously used form documents that often never account for a particular client’s goals or concerns. Clients take the documents home, file them away, and never look at them again. Through no fault of their own, they mistakenly believe they have done something valuable for their families.
Milo’s story illustrates why planning is about more than just signing a few forms and documents. It is really about making sure that a proper legal structure and process is in place, tailored to your situation, that will ensure that your loved ones are going to be cared for in the way that you want. It’s also about making it as easy as possible for the people we love to take care of us and our affairs after something happens.
A story from a friend whose father-in-law had passed away, is an excellent case in point. My friend’s father-in-law spent $3,000 dollars with a law firm to prepare an estate plan for him so his family would not be stuck dealing in probate court after his death. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened. After he passed away, not only did his family get drawn into court, but they were drawn into court in two separate states dealing with two different law firms.
My friend couldn’t understand it. If her father-in-law had paid $3,000 for an estate plan, why were they dealing with the court and incurring all the expenses and stress of court?
Much like Milo, the attorney simply provided my friend’s father with form will and trust documents and sent him on his way. His plan had not been kept up to date and his assets were not owned in the right way. His plan had been prepared years before – it was never reviewed and never updated as life events occurred. Moreover, his assets were not properly titled to keep them out of court. In fact, some of the assets had never been transferred into the name of his trust at the time his lawyer prepared his estate plan. Worse yet, there was no way for his family to confirm everything he owned after he passed away. The family had to wait for statements to come in the mail and hope that they did not miss any due to lost mail or other issues as we they were grieving his death.
Currently, there is over $70 billion dollars of unclaimed property in the United States. The most common reason this property is unclaimed is due to assets being overlooked when someone dies. In fact, 1 in 7 people have unclaimed property being held by a state.
My friend, who is a lawyer herself, thought for sure that the legal work done for her father-in-law must be malpractice. However, when she interviewed other estate planning firms, she learned that it was common practice – not malpractice. Lawyers were putting plans in place without much regard as to whether they would work when their clients’ families needed them.
Sadly, these law firms are missing the real importance of why clients like you are meeting with lawyers. When clients leave their offices without the simplest idea of what is going to happen to their children or their assets if they pass away, or what will happen to them or a spouse if they become incapacitated, these firms have failed. Worse yet, their clients are led to believe that they have their affairs in order.
When I focused my law practice on estate planning, I made a commitment that first and foremost I would ensure that I created plans for my clients that will work when their families need them. I have examined the ways plans fail and have developed a service model and processes from intake to plan design and beyond that fully serves each client’s needs.
There is no one size fits all method of planning. Each situation is assessed differently based upon family dynamics and the client’s wishes and needs. The client always decides on what level of services and legal options fit their budget.
Flat Fees, Accessibility, and Guidance
All estate planning services are determined in advance and on a flat fee basis. You will know exactly what each item will cost before you agree to it. There will be no surprise charges. This contrasts with firms that charge $400-$600 an hour for every task. When traditional law firms bill you hourly, every phone call or email incurs a fee and increases your legal bill. The flat fee system that I use does not. This is extremely important in estate planning because clients are dealing with new and complex information that can be overwhelming.
For example, clients may leave the office remembering that we talked about retitling their assets, but when they get to the bank, they forget the details of what was said. Faced with an hourly fee, they may not call and their assets may end up being held in a manner that later causes the plan to fail. Worse yet, they call and it takes the lawyer a month to get back to them, or they never get back to them at all. Whether it is the cost or the inaccessibility of the lawyer, the result is the same - the assets are not held in the correct way and the plan fails when it is needed, and the client ends up in court. In my office, every call from a client gets returned or responded to in a timely fashion. I ensure that my clients have the ongoing instruction and guidance necessary to complete the steps necessary to ensure that the plan we create for them will work when they or their family needs it most.
Option for Ongoing Care & Attention
One of the worst aspects of the traditional law firm experience is that once a client’s documents are completed, the law firm moves on to the next client. Rarely do they have an interest, let alone a formal process, for following up with clients.
This is critical because every client needs an avenue for following up to make sure their plan continues to work for them throughout their life. As life events occur and things change, your plan may need to be updated to ensure that it does not become obsolete. At a minimum we offer a complimentary three-year review of any estate plan we prepare so we can ensure that your plan accounts for any changes in your life, your assets, or the law.
Plans to Protect Your Minor Children
The plans prepared by many traditional firms do not put a separate plan in place to deal with what happens to your children in the immediate aftermath of a sudden tragic event. To understand the importance of this, let me share with you a story.
My friend was out to dinner one night with her husband. As they were eating, it occurred to my friend that her baby girl was at home with a 16-year-old babysitter. While she had created an estate plan, she realized that if anything happened to her and her husband and they did not make it home, that plan would not work to keep her daughter out of the care of strangers.
The police would knock on the door, the sitter would answer, and the police would have no choice but to take her baby into protective custody until they could find my friend’s legal documents and figure out what to do. All of my friend’s family was out of state in Florida and no one, outside of her husband, knew where their legal documents were.
Until the authorities could locate my friend’s will or guardian nomination, they could not leave the baby with any friends or neighbors. Prudence would require that the police take the baby into custody and place her in the care of people she did not know until the legal process played out.
Most estate plans leave significant holes in the planning for minor children by not planning for the short-term, by not considering what to do if the people named as guardians live far away, and not contemplating what to do if a couple is named and they get divorced or one of the people in the couple cannot serve for some reason.
Moreover, most estate plans do nothing to prevent children from being raised by someone you would object to. For example, in the event that something happened to my friend, and she had not named legal guardians, two people would likely petition the court to raise her kids – her sister and her sister-in-law.
On paper, her sister-in-law would look like the best choice because she had children, a full-time job, and was married. Her sister, on the other hand, would look like a horrible choice because she only recently graduated from college, was not in a stable financial situation, never had kids, and had no partner to help. However, the judge would have no way of knowing that her sister-in-law is the last person my friend would ever want raising her kids, bar none.
Not planning for this scenario, and the short-term and long-term care of minor children, is a huge hole in the plans that many lawyers are doing. I can help you protect your children so they will never be taken into the care of strangers or people you disapprove of if something happens to you.
A Personal Note
On a personal note, I am a father of three children. What they bring to this experience for me, is an awareness that planning is something you do for the people you love the most. You may or may not be the one to benefit from the plan we design, but your loved ones surely will. I am guessing that is why you are here.
I look forward to talking with you about those people and how we can ensure that they are cared for and protected, and that your legacy, your life, and who you are as a person is preserved and passed on to people you love and care for the most.
My best to you,
No Time For Mistakes
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