Saturday, January 05, 2008

Client Building for the VLO

Building a client base for a vlo requires out of the box thinking. I've found that networking works best when I use other popular online networking mediums that are frequented by the online public, my potential clients.

The no-brainer is advertising my vlo on free lawyer referral websites or in free classified ad sections like craigslist. These methods do not necessary result in a large number of new clients, but it drives people to the vlo and builds name recognition for the practice and the vlo concept in general. It's on my weekly to-do list.

The most enjoyable method of networking for clients for me is offering free online educational posts in online forums. Right now, I only have the time to be an active member of one forum, but it would be good if I could add a new one every six months and keep an active presence in each. Forum posting allows you to advertise your business by posting your name, your profession, your vlo and website link to your vlo. Viewed by several hundred forum members a week, this is a great way to build a reputation for the vlo and its services.

The key to posting in forums that are made up of lay people is to write your message in non-lawyer terms and make it understandable from their perspective. Of course, it should go without saying that the other thing to remember is the bar's advertising rules and make sure that anything I write stays in compliance with those. I keep it general enough to not be providing specific legal advice to any one person and explain that everyone has different circumstances. Most of the readers will PM me with specific legal questions if they want to ask a question related to their families.

For starters, I am a member of, a local branch of a nationwide conglomerate of forums created by mothers for mothers. I asked the permission of the forum managers first and explained that I intended this to be educational, not an advertisment for my services. The posts generated some good dialogue about Estate Planning among the mothers in the forum, of which there are close to 500 members all of whom seem to be very active. (As a mother myself, I also post comments and start threads on the forum that are unrelated to the law.) I also offered the members of the forum a small discount on my services should any of them decide to retain me to handle their estate planning services. Even if I never received a client from the educational thread, I've provided useful information to the group and have added some goodwill to my vlo's name that could pay off in the future.

I will post the first part of the educational estate planning thread below for reference. I intend to write more of these for the forum on other topics related to estate planning law in N.C.

New Year’s resolutions often include organizing important family business. So, with the kind permission of the WM managers, I am posting this educational thread about estate planning, starting with Wills. I want to start a dialogue that you all can continue at home with your families. I will also post a helpful checklist for everyone. If anyone wants to ask general questions, feel free. Knowledge = power and I want all us mommies empowered!

This is just educational, general legal advice so if you want to have documents written for your family, I would strongly recommend communicating with an attorney rather than trying to do it yourself. I have experience handling estate administration so I’ve seen both the drafting side and the probate side. Be wary of purchasing estate planning forms from office supply stores or from places like If a licensed NC attorney is not tailoring these documents to your specific needs, then it can have serious consequences. I’ve actually had to fix a few of these fill-in-the-form Wills for clients and in the end it costs them more in the long run. Just a quick tip before getting down to business.

Last Will and Testament Who Needs One?

Anyone who has children. You should name a primary guardian and secondary guardian so that your children will be cared for in the event that something should happen to both you and your spouse.

What Could Happen if You Don’t Have a Will?

If you and your husband don’t have a Will and both of you pass away at the same time, your children may be placed into the care of the New Hanover Department of Social Services until the court system can determine who would be the appropriate guardian for them. The court has the final say in the matter but gives strong weight to the directives of a Will.

How Do You Name a Guardian in the Will?

Your Will tells the court who you want to raise your children in the event of the death of both you and your spouse. Your Will also tells the court how you want the assets of your estate to be distributed to your children’s guardian for the purposes of their health care, education, and overall well-being. If you and your spouse pass away and you have named a guardian in your Will, your child may remain safely with that individual until he or she is formally awarded guardianship by the court. I have a checklist I made up called “How do you Choose A Guardian” which helps parents discuss this emotional decision. If anyone is interested in it as well, just let me know.

What is a Testamentary Trust for Minors and Why is it Important?

The common misunderstanding with trusts is that you and your husband must have a large, multimillion-dollar estate in order to have a testamentary trust. This is not true. Testamentary trusts are a smart way of protecting your children and any inheritance they might receive, no matter the size, and it provides their guardians with any funds they may need to care for your children. The Will sets up a testamentary trust for your minor children. This trust is set up by the executor of your estate when the Will is probated.

A testamentary trust describes how and when the funds from your estate should be distributed to your child. For example, you could write the trust so that half of estate is distributed at age 21 and the other half at age 30. The trend has been to set the age for when the children are older and presumably more responsible so that the children will not come into a sum of money at the age of 18 or before they may be mature enough to responsibly manage the inheritance. You may also design the trust so that the trustee is directed with specific instructions to distribute funds to the guardian for the care of your child, such as for private school tuition or study abroad.

What Does an Executor/Executrix Do?

Naming the Executor/Executrix of your estate ensures that your spouse or the named guardian of your children will know who to turn to during a time of grieving. The Executor will be responsible for the administration of your estate. He or she will take your Will to the Clerk in the Estates Division of the county in which you were a resident upon your death. The Executor/Executrix will set up the estate administration, the testamentary trust and work with the guardian and trustee and Clerk of Court to ensure that the plans written in your Will are handled properly.

By naming an Executor/Executrix in your Will, your loved ones may be able to administer your estate more efficiently and potentially with less expense than if you had not appointed anyone. If you do not have an appointed Executor/Executrix named in a Will, when you pass away, the Clerk of Court will appoint an individual to handle your estate. Usually this individual is the first family member who shows up at the Clerk’s office requesting information regarding intestate (without a Will) administration of the estate.

What are Specific Bequests?

In your Will you may make specific bequests of property to your children or other loved ones. For example, you may want to leave a family heirloom, your jewelry, or a valued stamp collection to your child. Making these specific designations may help prevent interfamily arguments regarding division of your personal property.

Will your Family Know What You Wanted?

In the Will you may describe how you would like your family to remember your life through a funeral, memorial, cremation, burial or other arrangements. You can designate specifics such as the cemetery where you would like to be buried or the church in which you would like a memorial service to be held. Having your wishes written down takes some of the stress of having to make those decisions off of grieving loved ones. Oftentimes these decisions have to be made quickly by the surviving spouse or your children. This section of the Will helps your family members follow your wishes.

Many people also use this section of the Will to write special messages for their children, to tell them they love them or to impart words of wisdom or other family traditions that they want them to remember. This is a very personalized section of the Will and can be as simple or specific as you would like.

What are Sweetheart Wills?

If you are married, you and your spouse should write “sweetheart wills,” or Wills where the provisions mirror each other or work together for the benefit of the family. If you have an estate that you estimate to be larger than $2 million (2008 Federal estate tax exemption amount), I would recommend more complex estate planning methods in addition to a Will that might help with the impact of federal and state taxes.

For most of my clients, simple estate planning is all that is necessary given the size of their estates and the fact that they will most likely be updating their Wills several times later on in their lives.

O.k. that's all for now. I hope this is useful and wasn't too long a post. Everyone let me know your thoughts. Obviously, I am not the only attorney around to choose from, but I'm offering a special discount on my estate planning package to any mommies on this forum. Just PM me or go to my online law office.
Stephanie - Proud mother of DD (1/06). Happily married to DH since 2001.
Attorney practicing law online from home at


James said...

You could also generate referrals from clients who subscribe to an online estate organizer. Once the legal documents are completed they could be uploaded into the organzer for safe keeping. Estate++ is an excellent example of this type of service. said...

Interesting idea, James. I'll have to check out this service when I have more time and think about how that would work from a security/confidentiality standpoint.