Decision Dialogues
Decision Dialogues

Episode · 1 year ago

The Big Need for a Plan - Ep 10


On Episode 10 of Decision Dialogues, Modera CEO Tom Orecchio and COO Mark Willoughby speak to estate planning attorney Mary Browning of Cole Schotz, P.C. In addition to sharing some useful career insights, Mary talks about one of the most important decisions anyone can make, but one that is so often avoided—how one's affairs will be handled in the event of their death.  Get the full show notes and more resources at

Are you paving the way for the life you want facing decisions that may affect you personally and financially? The decision dialogs podcast, brought to you by Modera Wealth Management, presents personal stories about navigating through life's pivotal moments, narratives that we hope will inspire you as you create your own story. You'll learn what influence their next steps and gain insights that could help you with your own critical choices. Welcome to decision dialogs. Thanks for joining us on decision dialogs with thrill to have you a law my name is Mark Willoughby and I'm a principal wealth manager and Chief Operating Officer of Madera Wealth Management Llc. Today, my colleague Tomarechio, who's the Chief Executive Officer at Madeira, and I will be chatting with Mary Browning. Mary is an attorney at cold shots. She's a member of their tax trusts and a stag estates department, and cold shots, a law firm provides legal services throughout the United States from his offices in New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Maryland, Texas and Florida. Mary focuses are practice on sophisticated a state and as special needs planning, elder law planning, a State Administration and business and tax planning. Welcome everyone to the show and I'll hand it over to Tom. Thank you, mark. Mary. It's a pleasure to have you with us this morning. Thanks for asking me. We're going to start with a little bit of history and if you wouldn't mind, can you tell us a little bit about your professional journey and where you are today? Sure so, today I am a equity shareholder at Cole shots. My journey to get to this position was a little bit unusual in a way. When I was in law school I was wasn't sure what I wanted to do. When I was a second year, the law school encouraged me to apply for federal clerkships. So I did and I ended up getting an offer from judge Pizzano, who is now retired, but he was at the time in the District Court of New Jersey and he had an experience where he had a clerk that had worked for a year and then clerked for him. So, as all you know, he sets the rules. He decided that all his clerks had to work for a year. So when he hired me he hired me for three years. In the future just a little bit crazy. But so because of that, when I then did my summer associate it the stint the they knew I have this clerkship and so they tried to slap me into a litigation type role. By that time I had taken enough classes and talked to enough people and kind of had some heart to hearts with myself about the type of person that I am in the type of law I wanted to practice. But nonetheless I worked for my year in litigation because that's where they wanted me to be and it certainly solidified that that was not what I wanted to do. I did go to the clerkship the next year. Absolutely loved it. Even though I don't litigate, it was still one of the best jobs I've ever had. But I knew after that I really had to get into the TI Andean tax world and coal shots certainly had the reputation at the time. I was, you know, really just focused on New Jersey, but at the time they had the reputation of being the best in the state and so I was hyper focused on getting hired there and fortunately I was. and that was seventeen years ago. So started out as the associate. Even though I'd been two years out of law school, I'd never done a day of trusted estates or tax work. So I really kind of started over at that point then there ever since and as I'd like to tell people,...

...unless I win the lottery, I will be there as long as I'm there. So so you've been practicing for seventeen years. Well, I've been practicing really for nineteen years, nineteen years seventeen in trusted estates and coal shots. So then one of the obvious questions would be across those nineteen years, what do you think was the hardest decision you had to make with respect to your career? The harvest decision really was making the change, I think, from it wasn't a hard decision in the sense that litigation I knew was not for me and I loved the the idea of trust and estates and the the subject matter and the tax but it's very difficult, unfortunately, in the field of law, to pivot right. It's doable when you're younger, it's very difficult when you're more experience. People don't want to retrain someone that's already trained in something else because there's a time expense involved. There's cost involved to the the the firm. So I think just taking that plunge because in the back of my mind, even though I enjoy the topic, there's still that feeling of well, what if I don't like this either? You know what, if I went to law school for three years and it's just it was a mistake, it just wasn't for me. So delving in there and taking that plunge and fortunately having the firm take that chance on me, it didn't take long before I figured out that I found my spot, that this was for me. So fortunately I didn't have to deal with that all too long, but that was the most difficult. So on our business we call that a long runway, having to retrain and pivot Laton in your career. So you've been doing this a long time. I've been doing this a long time and a question I frequently get that I like to ask people is if you had to make one decision over during your career, what decision do you think you would make differently than you made? The good thing is that there's not a lot of things coming to mind. So you know, I think I I've had people say, well, why did you do the clerkship if you didn't end up being a litigator or you know, why did you take the path you took? I actually love the fact that I did that. I mean, besides the fact that I met people, it was fascinating. I have a really an advocate and friend for life in Judge Possana. He treats his clerks like his kids. Even though I don't see him a lot or talk to him a lot. When I do, he is, you know, just ready to help you in any way possible. So I I really actually don't I'm not sure I have an answer that I wish I did anything differently. It's kind of worked out the way it's worked out. That's great. So, along those same lines, you know you've been doing this for a while. Do you find, because law is multidisciplinary, do you find that there is an area that you're more curious about outside of what you do in trust in a state? Yes, family law has always been interesting to me. It was certainly something I had contemplated in law school. I took the classes, I found them to be very interesting. When I worked for a year as a litigator, I was able to do a little bit of family law and the topic interests me. It's not totally different than trusted the states in some ways. It's personal matters, it's family matters, it's counseling. What I ended up not liking about it is just how ugly it tended to get right, not that I don't deal with that myself and family issues that...

...come up, revolving money, which we know is comes up a lot, but it's different. It's very different than divorce, or at least in almost every divorce there's a lot of contentious issues. I certainly can't say that about the trust in the states world. So, although it's a topic that interests me and it's something that overlaps with things that I do, I'm glad I didn't go in that direction. I'm much better student in where I ended up. So in your trust in the state's work, what's what's your favorite part about a woo gets you excited in the morning to get out of bed and go do it again the next day? Two things. One is I always tell people on eighty percent therapist and twenty percent lawyer. So I love the personal aspect of it. I love talking to clients, getting to know them. I really get energy from my meetings with my clients and even though I haven't been a person with them for a year, the zoom has been pretty good. I just before this just got off the call with the clients I haven't seen since two thousand and thirteen and it's just nice to catch up with people and it's nice to hear about what their kids are doing and how their lives are changing. So that is one aspect I really enjoy. The other part is, particularly with the more complicated the state planning. I love the intellectual part of it. I like the game of it. It's figuring out what kind of plans can we do, what kind of techniques can we use to help reduce taxes to help, you know, get the clients where they want to be while trying to make it as tax efficient as possible? That kind of game component of it keeps me going to intellectually stimulated and it's fun. So the combination of both that's nice. So let's stick with that for a minute. They don't teach you in law school how to be a good therapist, right, and it's eight you said it's eighty percent of what you do. Do you find that you need to be a people person to do what you do, or do you think you could just be a good technician and still do what you do well? If you don't have the people skills, you'll have a very hard time bringing clients. So if the goal is to build a business and to have your own clients, it's very difficult if you don't have the people skills, and that's true in a lot of industries and that's true in a lot of areas of law. I do think when you're dealing with the more personal aspects of people's lives it's even more important. If I was a business owner and I was hiring a tax attorney to advise me on business matters, I may be less concerned about that than if I'm talking to someone about personal issues with kids or family members. It's just, I think, even more important to have that kind of High Equ as. People say, certainly that there is a role for technicians because there are a lot of difficult subject matters and and the tax law is incredibly complicated, but I don't see how those technicians ever become, you know, develop a tremendous amount of business without the personality aspect. So along your career there is, I'm sure there's been some bumps in the road. Is there one that sticks out that was a bit of a hurdle for you to overcome and, if so, how did it affect your career? Something that I've struggled with over time, especially when I was a younger associate, I think, was dealing with people who were either in a contentious situation or yeah, I'm somebody who likes to try to bring people to other and resolve conflict and there are situations...

...where they're just is conflict, especially it happens a lot when the second parent dies and now they're siblings who have always had problems with each other and now the parents aren't there to keep them together and it just explodes right. So that's one thing. Just being in the middle of a conflict and and kind of dealing with that was a struggle for me, I would say. The other aspect is is just inherently I'm a people pleaser and I like for people to be happy with my work and to be happy with, you know, the experience, and there's just some people where that they're just not happy with anything, and so fortunately it's not a lot of people, that doesn't happen very often, but that's hard. Also you know, to kind of get that thicker skin. Well, you can't please everyone right, right, no matter what you do right. So there's next question. Is a little tough, but I want to ask it because I know how it could impact your ability to give advice. Have you ever personally had to go through an estate plan for a friend or a family member where you were lead on that, not necessarily from the aspect of being a professional, but just having to go through it yourself? So You my dad passed a couple of years ago. I certainly you know he was asking me a lot of questions and and I was dealing with some aspects of that. I get a lot of phone calls from onto uncles and that kind of you know, where they have questions. I'm not necessarily in charge of the estate or anything like that, but I'm certainly the go to person in my family, understandably, for those issues. Right. But I haven't I haven't had fortunately, too many experiences at this point being, you know, solely in charge of estates. Do you think because of your experience, you might approach it a little differently now, having lived through it, where it's always the client living through a bit? But you've had to do it yourself. Yes, my situation was, you know, my dad was remarried and it's interesting because after his death some issues came up that I just didn't think would come up. You know, they I've seen them come up with other families. I thought that our relationships were better and different than that, and the way that I thought the plan was put in place and the way that my dad and I had spoken about it before his death was not the way it ended up being. Okay, and it's it's still very difficult, sure, and it was a difficult situation. I remember saying at the time I feel like one of my clients, like this happens all the time. It's to my clients and I said I I know how they feel and it's not, you know, listen, it's not not tons of money, but that's not really the point. You know, you points, no experience right points the experience and and the feelings and it's so complicated. Sure, and sometimes, you know, you hear people say, well, it's about the principle and it kind of think of, you know, get over it. But but I felt that way. Sure, so I do. When you have those experiences, it does give you a different perspective and and it helps you understand more where some of the feelings that people have, especially surrounding a death of a parent or someone else that's close. It really does bring up a lot of issues for people. And again, I'm not really a psychiatrist or psychologist, but there's a lot of, you know, feelings you didn't know you had really that kind of get unearthed. Sure, can I bring us back to that eighty percent therapist, twenty percent... comment you made, and I want to build off what Tom was asking you married, you know, when you get in the middle of those potentially contentious family situations from an estate planning perspective, how do you deal with it, given that you don't have the professional training as a therapist? How do you work your way through those contentious family situations? So so it does somewhat depend on who we're representing. So if it's a situation where the the siblings, I'm using siblings because that's, I'd say, most common, where the siblings are really fighting each other, they very often have their own attorneys. So I may represent one sibling and the other siblings. Right now have a situation I'm representing one sibling another attorney's representing two of the other siblings. You know, it's difficult because there's some things that there. This is where my experience from having my own personal if the experience with my dad, comes into play. Some of the things they're arguing about. You know the records. You know I wanted that record and and sometimes you just have to know. Sometimes I'll say to my client, we have to pick our battles here. We can fight about every single thing and you'll be doing this for years. Let's figure out what's the most important thing to you and that's what we're going to focus on and we're going to it's a lot of negotiation. We're going to give on this because it's not as important to you and we're going to really push on that. When you have a situation where you are representing, for example, I maybe I represent the parents and they decide to have a family meeting and the kids come in and I have had situations where I'm sitting in a conference room and there are blowups, you know, big blowups where I remember once I walked into the way rouse coming to get my clients to bring them into the conference room and the MOM is over here. I walk out and now, Hey, guys, everybody doing today? The MOM is over in one side of the room, one of the kids is on the other. Nobody's talking. I mean in the waiting room, before we even got into the they had a huge blow up so they wouldn't go in together. I had to bring them in separately and I'm trying to figure out what's going on. Yes, I'm not a trained, you know, psychiatrist, but I do feel as if I'm. I'm a good listener and a good people person and I do try to empathize with them while trying to keep them focused on what the goal is. The goal is where. This is what I'm here to help you do. Can you put aside certain things so that we can talk about that? It's interesting. The latter example is what I was thinking when I posed a question. You know, what do you do when you know you get emotions runned up in a meeting room? It turns out that a lot of what you do is on the negotiation side, as opposed to the professional therapy site. Just get them to the negotiating table right in those types of situations. Yes, in other situations, I work with a lot of people who have just been through a divorce and so they feel the need to tell me all of the stuff that they've just been through, and that's fine. You know, that's that's part of their process, that's part of and that's part of what helps them to trust me. Sure you know, I'm listening to them, I understand them, I'm their person. You know, a lot of times people that have gone through a divorce, one spouse is more in charge of the finances than the other and for the people who've never had their own people that are just working for them, it's a big deal and it's a big step, but it's also a little scary for them because they feel, and I'm I know you guys deal with this all the time. They've never had to have that responsibility and it's great.

They feel empowered, but they also feel like they have a lot to learn, and so you know, I take that part of it very seriously as well. I would imagine they're sharing that amount of detail with you allows you to ultimately be a better adviser to them to a great it's not all just irrelevant information. It certainly helps me to understand what the relationships are, the relationships with the kids, which ultimately come helps with the estate plan, who's going to be in charge of the money? What happens if you die? Who's going to be the Guardian? All of those decisions, legal decisions that they have to make, are, of course, influenced and by all of the things that are happening in the relationship. So obviously you go through this type of situation with clients on a daily basis and you see the emotions that they go through. What one piece of advice could you offer to our listeners who are about to embark on this process? It is difficult for a lot of people to talk about it, to think about their death and to talk about what's going to happen, or even to think about what's going to happen right. I think about it and talk about it every day. The reason why a lot of people don't have wills, regardless of their net worth, regardless of their age, is because they don't want to get into the conversation. It's too difficult, they don't want to think about it right. So what I would say to the listeners is it is so important to do it. It is a mess if it's not done and if it's not done well and once you do it, you will feel a sense of relief. I have a lot of clients who have said to me at the end of the process, I feel like a weight's been lifted off of me. I didn't realize how much this was weighing on me, knowing I needed to do this and not wanting to do it, and now that it's done, I feel such a sense of comfort and I feel like I've really taken care of my family. It's almost like ripping off a band aid. That's good. It may not be the most fun conversation that you've ever had and you may not want to think about these things too much, but get it done, get it done right and and then you can move on. Great. So a couple of easy questions for you and not necessarily related to work. What are you reading right now or what are you listening to right now? So I love podcasts and I go between really a couple of different types of podcasts. I love true crime pro podcasts, so I'm always trying to find the next good crime story. I listened to the the dating game killer. I don't know if you know about that story. It is insane. So there's about a five episode podcast on that. That was really interesting and I'm a very avid golfer, so I listened to a number of golf podcasts. So some of them are more sports psychology type podcasts and some of them are more instruction, but there's a lot of good ones out there. Well. Last question I have is what is the last non financial related decision that you've made over the last week? So this morning I had to decide which Peloton ride to take, and sounds like an easy decision, but the only reason I even get Peloton done is because I have a group of friends who also do it, and so we pick times to do it together and we kind of negotiate what ride we're going to do. So today was my turn to pick the ride. So that was you. Keep you so we're honest. That's right.

That's right, very good. Well, I want to thank you for being with us today. I'm sure our listeners will really enjoy this. I know how difficult the estate planning processes and you're right, it's just it takes a weight off of you when you go through it and and you've completed it, because it is so important that you take care of things like that for your family and friends. Great thanks for having me. Thanks very much to tell our Reichio and to Mary Browning for let it letting US listen in on their conversation. We appreciate their time and perspectives and thank you for tuning in. We hope you will join us next time on decision dialogs for more stories from successful business owners. So loo for now. Thank you for listening to decision dialogs. We hope you found today's stories helpful for your own decisionmaking. If you like to listen to more episodes, you can subscribe on your preferred podcasting APP or visit our website, where you'll also find show notes and important disclosures. WWW DOT wellcom. Forward Slash decision dialogs. This has been a production of twin flames studios.

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