This week we discuss Victor’s trip to Colonial Williamsburg and whether it’s a good trip to take with kids. Also, tips and tricks for selecting a great advisor, whether it’s for legal or financial matters.
Make It Last with Victor Medina is hosted by Victor J. Medina, an estate planning and elder law attorney and Certified Financial Planner™. Through his law firm and independent registered investment advisory company, Victor provides 360º Wealth Protection Strategies for individuals in or nearing retirement.
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Announcer: Welcome to “Make It Last,” helping you keep your legal ducks in a row and your nest egg secure with your host Victor Medina, an estate planning and elder law attorney and certified financial planner.
Victor J. Medina: Hey, everybody. Welcome back to Make It Last with Victor Medina. I am your host, Victor Medina. This is the show that helps you keep your legal ducks in a row and your financial nest egg secure. Thanks so much for joining us.
On today’s show we’re going to talk about how to select the best counselor for you. I’m going to talk you through some things that I think are important. Before I get to that, I do want to take a second to acknowledge all the great feedback that we’ve gotten online, specifically from the podcast.
And let you know that, if you like this show and you are just listening to it live on the radio or perhaps streaming it on your computer, that one of the best things that you can do is just jump over to iTunes and subscribe to it or if you’re on an Android phone subscribe to that podcast version of it.
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Let me jump into a quick topic before I get to it. Now, I’m lucky enough that they give me the airtime here and I can talk about whatever I want. So, today, before I get to the big topic, I want to talk a little bit about the vacation that I took. I’ve just got back from a trip with the family to Colonial Williamsburg, and it got me thinking.
First, I want to share with you some of the tips. Colonial Williamsburg was a great trip for everyone in the family. We drove down on a Friday, and traffic was really light. The reason why it was light, by the way, is because my wife made us get up and leave at about five o’clock in the morning. There was nobody on the road, except for large trucks.
We made a little detour around Baltimore and took some back roads that a friend of mine taught me because his son goes to the College of William & Mary. By the time we got there, it was about 11 o’clock in the morning. We arrived at Yorktown. Yorktown is the site of the famous battle between the revolutionaries and Captain Cornwallis. This was when the French Navy kind of blocked people in.
One of the reasons why my children really wanted to go see that is that that middle child of mine, that loves Hamilton so much, was very familiar with Yorktown because it’s highlighted as one of the parts in the show that’s really significant. He enjoyed the opportunity, not only to visit the battleground, but they put together a new American Revolution Museum.
This I can’t recommend highly enough. This was a fantastic trip. You go in, it covers all of the American Revolution. There’s tons and tons of exhibits there ‑‑ articles of clothing, descriptions on actors within that time period on what they were doing.
When you go outside, they have reenactments of some revolutionary war camps. They’ve got tents set up that you can walk in and around. You are able to visit with people that are there working, see a working kitchen as it might have been in the revolutionary times. Then they fire off a musket and a cannon, and you walk through a working farm there.
When we were done with the Yorktown trip, which took the better part of the afternoon, checked into this nice resort. When I say “nice resort,” I’m not talking about high‑end. It’s like a timeshare area. One of the things that they gave you was a two‑bedroom…At least where we stayed in it was this two‑bedroom apartment with a kitchen.
It was great because there were all kinds resort things to do there. They had a pool there, and they had a movie that was showing in the evening for the kids. It was clear the people came back there, year after year. It was a great base of operations because we were so centrally located that we were able to hit a lot of what was in the area just within 15 or 20 minutes of where we were staying.
When we left the next morning, we went to Colonial Williamsburg and we did that traditional trip. My kids, when they went to Colonial Williamsburg, they had a ball because they were tons of people volunteering, showing what was going on.
This is really where I want to get to, is that the commitment level of the people that were showing off what was going on at that time…People who were demonstrating the trades ‑‑ the blacksmith, or the apothecary, or whatever else ‑‑ they were so committed to what was going on there.
You would have imagined that they’d get tired of answering the same questions over and over again, but there was a joy in helping kids and, for that matter, adults ‑‑ I asked as many questions as anybody else ‑‑ really understand what it was like to grow up in that area.
All of my kids had an interaction with what was going on there that was going to be memorable for them. For instance, the four‑year‑old got to participate in an archaeological dig and got to sift through. They found a button back from colonial times, and they’ll go and catalog and investigate it. We had people who were running on the painting press and asking quick questions there.
For me, having them have that opportunity where they were going to go ahead and interact and really get linked into it…I was so fearful that in today’s age of everything being on a phone or an electronic device, or it needs to be on an iPad, that they would’ve been bored during that part of the trip.
They also knew that we were going to hit the parks. We were going to hit the Busch Gardens and the Water Country, which we did. I was concerned that when we did the more educational and the more historical stuff that we would have to draw them out of the shell to go out there, but it was quite the opposite. They had a blast. They had a blast interacting with everybody that was there.
I cheated a little bit. I front‑loaded all of the educational stuff, and we left the fun stuff to the end. On the second last morning, we went to Jamestown and saw the settlement that was there. We didn’t go to the historic area. There was another portion of it where there was a Jamestown settlement that there were reenactments. You could go in and see the Powhatan Indian Village, see the James Fort, and see a few of the ships that were there.
They got a chance to walk in and out of them. These things are set up so well. You walk into these old Indian tepees. They were these bigger structures. They have pelts there. They have skins from animals. They will give you the opportunity to ground the corn on a pestle. It was live for them. It was real. They got the opportunity to see it.
If you are listening to this and you are a grandparent…We talk about retirement, so we’re aiming at people that are 55 and older. You may not be my age with my aged kids, but if you are a grandparent and you have the opportunity to schedule this trip where you can go with your family and take your grandkids and you’re fearful at all that they might be bored, nothing could be further from the truth.
You’ve got to go and take this trip with them. If you’re living around New Jersey, Pennsylvania, it’s just a quick six‑hour ride, you stay in the area. We did it in four days, and we were able to hit everything that was there. I encourage that kind of trip. We made lots of memories with the kids. I saw a lot of people there with their grandparents, the kids with their grandparents. I totally recommend it, totally recommend it.
Victor: Now, as I look at the clock, I’ve eaten up the first segment talking about my trip. Thanks for sticking with me.
When we come back from the break, I’m going to talk to you about how to select a counselor. This is one of the biggest things that people face in terms of finding the right amount of help, the right qualifications. A few things have come up that I want to cover that I think are going to be important for you.
Stay tuned. When we come back from the break, I’m going to be talking about how to select the best adviser for you. Thanks so much for listening to Make It Last. We’ll be right back.
Victor: Hey, everybody. Welcome back to Make It Last. As I was talking about, people who are faced with the decision of finding a good counselor often are a little bit lost as to how to select that person.
Recently, they came out with a ruling. The New Jersey State Bar Association and Supreme Court that rules on ethics basically released an opinion that prohibits lawyers from participating in the referral sites that are linked to Avvo, Rocket Lawyer, and LegalZoom, essentially deeming them to be impermissible fee sharing or a lawyer referral service that isn’t registered.
That was a pretty big news because, more and more, I find that individuals are searching for their information online. You can google any question, and Google will return a response for that question. I don’t know if that response is always going to be right on key for what you need, but you’ll always get a response. You will always be able to get search results from that. Then you’re left to your own devices.
These companies realize that people are going to be asking questions about legal planning in a way that makes it difficult for them to know exactly how to get that right advice, but they’re trying to help provide it. That’s not quite true. They’re trying to get money. They’re trying to make money. They’re a for‑profit, but they know that people want these questions answered and they know that legal services are expensive.
If people can figure out this answer on their own and inexpensively, that will be something that will be helpful for them, driving their traffic so that they can do whatever they want with it. In any event, they spend a lot of money on search engine optimization. They’re basically there to drive the traffic.
Once you get on to the site, you can ask questions. Then they’ll give you an opportunity to speak with a lawyer. Then they try to cut the rate down and then have lawyers participate in that by paying for the referral, splitting the fee.
The bar association and the concept of a bar is really there as consumer protection. The reason for that is that when you enter into a relationship with a lawyer, you get to a point where you are trusting your best interests over to this individual. When I accept a client on, their problems become my problems and their well‑being becomes my responsibility. In fact, it does so even against my own interests.
One of the easiest examples to understand is lawyers, once they accept the case and they file a lawsuit on behalf of a client or they’re representing somebody, they can’t withdraw from that representation even if they’re not getting paid, until they’ve been allowed to by the court.
This concept of putting a client’s best interests even ahead of their own is something that lawyers do. The reason why the bar is important is they control the ticket to see the show. If a lawyer messes up and commits malpractice and does so in a way that is so egregious that they should have their ticket to the show revoked, the bar has the opportunity to revoke that license. That’s important.
It’s important because that kind of governance makes sure that lawyers are always acting in their clients’ best interests. If you compare that with a for‑profit company, the for‑profit company has no such obligations.
If you log on to Avvo’s site and you ask a question and you get an answer or you rely on the answer, even if you hire them, let’s say, for documents ‑‑ LegalZoom does a lot of estate planning documents ‑‑ if LegalZoom screws up, there’s a limit to their liability. That limit is driven by a contract.
Even if they screw up really, really bad, no one can revoke their ability to do business. The only thing that will do that is if they become bankrupt. There’s a huge disparity between the responsibilities that a lawyer has with a client versus what a for‑profit company has with a client.
I’m suggesting that that is so important, that it’s worth paying for, paying more money, at a premium level, than what you can get if you just do it yourself because the security that you get knowing that someone has put their ability to have a livelihood on the line…
If I lose my license to become a lawyer, I’ve really given up my ability to have a livelihood. I can go do something else, but I can’t be a lawyer again and I can’t do what I do now ‑‑ running two companies and estate planning practice that’s marginally successful.
That’s really important, and that helps protect consumers. That’s been the case in law forever and ever. As I’ve discussed in prior shows, that’s not the case often on the financial side.
Now I’m going to discuss some qualifications, some credentials that I think people ought to have. I wanted to spend time because when I saw this new report come out, it highlighted for me the big difference between true professionals ‑‑ physicians, accountants, lawyers ‑‑ and for‑profit companies.
When you take your life and your security, and you place it into the hands of someone else, you deserve to make sure that what you get back in return is that person’s very, very best work and their commitment to put your best interests as the highest priority, the highest priority.
On the legal side, that’s typically the difference between hiring a lawyer and do‑it‑yourself or, at least in the estate planning world, a form‑based document. I don’t see a lot of competition in my practice with people that are do‑it‑yourself. By the time they come and see me, people realize the benefit of seeing a lawyer.
I try to explain to them the benefit between seeing a lawyer like me that focuses exclusively on estate planning and elder law issues versus somebody that does a general practice. I think they’re going to get a better result with a specialist.
To think about it from the medical perspective, it’s great to have a general practitioner, but at some point in time, as you get older, you might need a cardiologist. It’s OK to go to the cardiologist and rely on the cardiologist versus the general practitioner. In fact, it probably would be a bad move to just rely on the general practitioner as you get older.
Sometimes, I have to explain the benefit of working with us as people who work exclusively in this area. I don’t see a lot of people shopping us against the online form by the time they come and see us, but that’s not the case for the general public. LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer, they make a ton of money selling forms and a false sense of security.
As you navigate through making decisions about professionals, always make sure that you’re working with somebody who puts their professional license on the line as they give you that advice.
Victor: Within a legal context, that’s really easy. Once we get to selecting somebody on the financial side, it becomes a little bit more difficult. When we come back from the break, I’m going to talk about some credentials on both ends of the aisle and talk a little bit about why I think that combining those skills works for your advantage. All right?
Stick with us. When we come back from the break, we’re going to talk about that. This has been Make It Last with Victor Medina.
Victor: Hey, everybody. Welcome back to Make It Last with Victor Medina. I have been talking about how to select a great advisor for you, a professional, how are we going to make that decision.
In the primary segment I talked a lot about the difference between somebody who puts their professional license at risk the way lawyers do versus a for‑profit company. In this segment I’m going to talk about the credentials that I think that people ought to have as you search in this area.
Now, within a legal context it’s pretty easy. You want somebody that’s got a law degree. [laughs] Beyond that, looking to see which organization that they belong to I think is important.
For instance, I belong to Elder Council and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, Wealth Council. I belong to these organizations because they help support the knowledge that I need to have to provide the services that I do. They also provide continuing education in this area.
I probably spend about 24 days a year, almost a full month, in continuing education. In part because the practice area is always changing, but also in part because there’s a commitment that I have to be the best at what I do. At least put my best effort.
I’m not claiming that I’m the best estate planning attorney in the world. I’m sure there are people better than me, but I have such a high commitment to providing the best service for my clients that I spend this extra month learning about how to do it better.
In the elder law context one of the litmus tests that I tell clients to look for is to go search on the Veteran’s Administration to see whether or not that attorney is accredited to assist with VA claims. You can go onto the VA site, search for accredited attorneys, and put the person’s name in.
Now, this isn’t just for veterans, by the way. This litmus test works for everybody. The reason why I suggest it is because it’s an extra step, an extra credential for somebody that’s truly focused in this area. For them to go out and get this accreditation, it means that they’re committed to this practice area.
You should do that. Before you visit with an elder law attorney, see if they’re accredited to assist with veterans making their claims because it’s one of those areas that not everybody does.
The world is aging very fast. There’s about 10,000 Baby Boomers turning 65 every day between now and the year 2040, by some reports. If somebody wanted to build a practice area, going ahead and putting elder law or estate planning on your website is a pretty easy change. Getting accredited with the VA, that’s commitment.
Now, on the other side of it, I think that one of the best credentials to search for in the financial sector is see if somebody’s gone ahead and gotten their CFP, if they’re a Certified Financial Planner. Now, this isn’t the end‑all and be‑all credential, but for people who go out and get this it means that they’ve gone ahead and had a certain amount of experience, usually about three years in the financial planning world.
They are making a commitment to doing planning as opposed to product sales. They’ve passed an exam covering six areas of academic rigor. Education planning, retirement planning, investments, income taxes, estate planning, and insurance ‑‑ those are the six areas.
They’ve committed to an ethical set of guidelines. It’s not as strong as belonging to a bar for a lawyer, but it does commit people to acting a certain way. Then there’s continuing education requirements going forward. Now, I like this credential the best because it’s the one where the rubber meets the road for client work.
You could be a Chartered Financial Analyst, and all that means is you really understand investments well. You’re committed to it, but it doesn’t mean that you’re working with a client. It doesn’t mean that you’re committed to the work that the client needs in order to get done what they need to get done. I think that that credential is one of the most important ones to have, is the CFP.
We’ve talked before about making sure that they’re independent. You want to make sure that their obligation is not to their parent company. They might have a bull as a logo or have somebody’s name on it. When somebody hires them to be a financial advisor, their commitment is to their boss, not necessarily to you.
A registered investment advisory firm, like the one that I run, is an independent organization that can offer any product in the world, any investment in the world. If they’re committed to planning and they’ve got somebody who’s a CFP, the way I am, on board, then it means that they’re looking out for their clients’ best interests. In fact, under state and federal law, they are a fiduciary ‑‑ they have to work in their clients’ best interests.
Now, we’ve set up legal qualifications. We’ve set up financial qualifications. Here’s where the magic happens ‑‑ getting somebody who can combine retirement planning and estate planning, because much of estate planning is about preservation. We bill ourselves as total wealth preservation strategists. That’s what we do.
We look at the entire spectrum of what you have and think about and put a plan in place how to protect all of it. With this generation of retiring and retired clients being responsible for deciding so much about their security, making estate planning and retirement planning decisions together is likely to improve the outcomes for both.
For the second reason, the impact of having a market decline close to retirement helps magnify the risk of clients running out money later in their lifetime. When I do education about the different risks that are involved in investments, one of the biggest risks, as I said, is longevity because longevity magnifies the other risks.
If you live longer, you have a worst change of encountering a market risk, a [indecipherable 25:51] risk, a tax‑related risk. The longer you live, the more your money has to last and the more it has to weather the other risks that are involved there. Having somebody who understands that, that can marry legal and retirement planning together is likely to improve your change of success.
When you make these decisions on your own, the decision‑making pressure is high.
Victor: That pressure doesn’t make for better decisions. It’s likely in your best interests, better for you, to seek the advice of others to help with that and specifically somebody who’s skilled in one place to offer both.
For the clients that come on board with us on both of those areas, their biggest goal is making sure that there’s a coordination of advice and intent on what we’re trying to do. They want one place where everyone’s looking out for their best interests.
When we can provide both estate and retirement planning, financial and legal together, that improves their chances of success. Many clients agree, and that’s one of the reasons we’re growing so fast.
If you’re going out to seek a professional, look for their credentials. Look to see where they have their license on the line. Make sure that they’re committed to the area. Then try to find synergies for how you’re going to do that. Find ways of improving your chances of success, like having them under the same house [inaudible 27:36] .
Hope you have enjoyed this show. I’m back on board, back from my vacation. Thank you so much for listening to Make It Last. This is where we help keep your legal ducks in a row and your financial nest egg secure. We will see you next Saturday. Bye bye.
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