How A California Attorney Made Wills, Trusts, & Estates Simple And Started A Business That Can’t Be Stopped
I’m Emily Page and you are watching START to SOLD.
The title of this video is “How a California Attorney made wills, trusts, and estates simple and started a business that can’t be stopped!”
WHO IS CHRISTIE ASSELIN ESQUIRE AND WHAT SERVICES DOES SHE PROVIDE?
I’m excited to be interviewing Christie Asselin, an attorney in California, but also an expert in estate planning. No matter what state you’re in, you will learn key things from her about “estates, wills and trusts.” Thank you Christie so much for being here today. Can you tell us more about your business?
Hi Emily. Thank you for having me. I love the title. I love the can’t be stopped part of it. It’s very, very cute.
My name is Christie Asselin. I’m a Los Angeles based estate planning attorney and trust and probate administration attorney. I do two things:
1. People come to me when they want to prepare for death and incapacity and protect their assets, their loved ones, their children. And for those folks, I do estate planning. I draft up wills and estates and powers of attorney, all kinds of documents that help to really alleviate the issues that come with death and in capacity. And I also help them with beneficiary designations and trust funding.
2. In addition to that, I also help folks who have had a loved one pass away and are looking to settle in an estate or trust.
WHAT IS ESTATE PLANNING? AND WHEN DO I NEED IT?
Let’s roll right in. Can you explain to us what estate planning is? And when do you know that you need to start looking for an estate planning attorney?
Let me explain the importance of estate planning by using an example. I met with clients the other day – they’re a married couple with two grown children, and they have a home here in California. They have multiple businesses and property all over the country.
In scenario A – If they passed away and let’s say their sons tried to come in and administer their estate it would be a really big mess. Before their son could legally access their finances everything would be frozen and reviewed in a court of law which is a process we call “probate.” Their son would need to file petitions all over the country because their assets are in different countries, which means hiring multiple attorneys in each country, which is just a nightmare.
In scenario B – If instead of waiting until they pass away, they create legal documents with their wishes for their finances after they die, they can avoid all of that financial and emotional difficulty their son would have to deal with. It just prevents their loved ones from having to go through the stress, time, and money of probate petitions.
So for everyone, to repeat what she just said in the simplest way, estate planning is writing out a plan in advance for your money for when you pass away.
● Your plan will address these questions for example:
● What happens to your bank account if you pass away?
● Who in your family will get what if you die?
● How quickly can they get access to those assets if you pass away?
The questions can be harder to answer if you have multiple children or you’ve had a divorce at any time and had different spouses.
Without a plan in advance people actually start to fight over it. They fight and disagree and maybe some people wish they owned the house that they grew up in. Or maybe the one child wants to have the art that you owned but the others want to sell it. Death and estates can create a lot of emotional conflict for your family and they should be spending time grieving and remembering and celebrating your life rather than doing the boring and sometimes conflict ridden task and like figuring out what to do with your assets.
The great thing is you can plan that in advance, you can write out a plan like this is my will. I will that this goes to so and so, and the other benefit of this is that you get to plan your taxes. And so make sure that the money doesn’t just get watered down. You have to plan all this stuff in advance. And so that’s the pain point. The pain that we’re addressing here, that Christie can help with, is that passing away and planning for your death, with your money and your assets is emotional and it’s complicated. And so you want to advance.
I’ll just add to that, even if your children are not fighting and everyone’s on the same page, if you don’t have an estate plan, those children could wind up in court having to fight for the assets and it costs a lot of money.
For instance, if someone owns property here in Los Angeles, it’s very easy for your real property to reach a million dollars in value. If you have a home that’s worth a million bucks and there is no estate plan and there is no landing place for that asset after you pass away, that means that you can’t transfer title, kids aren’t going to get the asset until there’s a court order. It can take years, we’re talking at least nine months up to two years, to get that court order, to get that house sold. And it’s very expensive. For a million property, you’re looking at about $46,000 in attorney’s fees if an estate is settled after you die. Crazy.
That’s literally insane. And there’s no need for it, especially because you could pay an attorney in the beginning and think it out carefully and eliminate the need for the loss of time and money and stress.
Right. I like to think of it as like, if there’s a landing place for your assets to go, things are pretty smooth. It’s when there is no landing place that doors just slam in your face. There’s no other way to put it. Things don’t move unless you have a court order.
You might feel like your family’s all on the same page, but the judge doesn’t know. It’s their duty to have to make sure that this is all being handled correctly. And that’s the problem. If you just write it out, you can eliminate a lot of that.
I recently did a Continuing Legal Education (CLE) class for other attorneys. I focused on estate planning for couples who are unmarried. If you have two people living together almost like their husband and husband or wife and wife or husband and wife, but they never technically got married, they never registered as domestic partners.
It can be really problematic because the law doesn’t provide for your life partner to receive anything after you pass away, unless you go through an estate plan. The IRS doesn’t even see your unmarried partner as, basically the IRS treats unmarried spouses, I’m going to say spouses, as legal strangers. Not everybody wants to get married and that’s cool. But if you take the time to work through an estate plan with an attorney, you can really protect yourself a lot.
WHY DID YOU START WORKING IN ESTATE PLANNING?
Wow. It sounds like a headache. It makes a lot of sense. I think I’m hoping everyone watching feels very clear on all of that. So my next question would be, how did you decide that this was a problem you wanted to solve and that this would be the right one for you? What inspired you to start this business to address this is a pain point?
I litigated for a really long time, for 12 years, and I was ready for a change.
I wanted to work in an area of law where I could really, directly help people. I am smart and educated and I also really care about people. I think of my empathy as one of my superpowers.
In my practice I love that I get to really work with clients very closely and help them think through complex and emotional topics so it’s simple. I realized I have that special opportunity to make a difference through estate planning so I decided to jump ship and started doing estate planning.
So your empathy is what drove you to feel like this would be the right fit for you. And I would agree. I can tell, whenever we’ve talked, you always have empathy. You always care a lot about a person’s story and their needs which is important in this line of work because it is an emotional thing to even think about your own passing or for people on the other side who’ve had a family member to pass, there’s a lot of emotion involved.
We can say that we are rational, and money is about the mind. But actually our emotions can very much impact what we want to do rationally. So it’s important to have an attorney who is empathetic to your situation to be able to help you think strategically to get the right outcome.
WHAT IS YOUR PROCESS TO HELP YOUR ESTATE PLANNING CLIENTS?
So after you decided to launch this business, what was the process you decided to create to help your clients?
Well, I wanted it to be really simple. And really this is where Emily came in and I give Emily rave reviews because she did such a good job of figuring … You almost did an audit of where I needed to fix things and work on customer care, client care, whatever. We really worked out, for my two different processes for two different sets of clients.
1) estate planning, those people who are looking to prepare for their future. And…
2) estate administration or probate administration. Those are people who’ve had someone else they love pass away.
- ESTATE PLANNING
For my estate planning clients, I’m trying to get them to the place where they can go, it’s done. I can walk away from this and feel like my children and my assets are going to be protected. So I have a five-step process for that. I really like to meet with my clients. I don’t really believe in questionnaires so much. A lot of attorneys rely on questionnaires. They’re thick, they’re confusing. They use a lot of political jargon and I just really want to sit down and talk to people about what they want.
Typically I will meet with a client or a couple as a client, and we talk about what their wishes and goals are. And so it’s usually about an hour long interview, I listen to everything I have to say. I draft up the documents, I send them back and we meet again for a second interview to go over everything together. I answer all their questions, they make changes that they want to, and then I get them either the documents back to my clients for review again. Or we set up what I call signing day.
I’m never going to be like in the NBA or I’m never going to be part of the college draft, but it’s really cool to watch that process. And so I decided I wanted to have my own signing day. So they come in for signing day, everything gets signed and executed.
Now we’re on step four. I process everything. And then I send them their originals back. I send them copies via PDF and then work step at five and they’re done. And then I’m available for phone calls afterward if they have questions. If they’ve had more complicated businesses, I still need to keep working on their file. So there might be a fifth meeting as well. So that’s how my estate planning clients work.
- ESTATE ADMINISTRATION OR PROBATE ADMINISTRATION
My probate trust administration clients, again, that’s someone coming to me saying “My wife passed away.” OR “My mom passed away or my dad passed away.” Let’s be honest, when someone passes away your grief stricken and how would you even know where to start unless had someone guiding you through it?
I have a six step process and I have to review my notes for this because it’s a little more involved.
The first one is we investigate. I always have my clients, if they can, access their deceased loved ones’ laptops to look out for any bank accounts that exist out there. Most people don’t know what their parents have as assets or where it’s saved. So we investigate what assets are out there. If there’s a trust lying around somewhere that has been gathering dust for 25 years, let’s find that. We watch mail to see what’s coming in, just keeping an eye out for gathering everything.
The second one is, if there is a trust, we establish the trust as its own little entity, by getting its own EIN or employer identification number. A trust, after someone passes away, it probably has become irrevocable, which means it’s its own little entity, its own little business. So it gets its own little EIN. And if there is no trust, we might have to file a probate petition or some other motion.
Then we gather all of the assets together. We transfer the assets to the trustee and the trustee then takes over control over those assets. Then he or she has the obligation of distributing those assets. But first you have to pay the debts, pay taxes, file taxes.
At the very, very end, you make distributions to heirs and beneficiaries. The end game for my trust in estate administration clients is getting everything finalized – finishing the probate case or settling the trust and walking away. That’s what my goal is.
For anyone who’s not up to speed on these things, they may not fully understand every word that you said. The point that everyone needs to take away is that she has a plan and you know what the cool thing is that Christie can actually explain to you. You don’t have to know all of the plans or have the steps memorized, but at the time when you need step one, Christie will explain what step one is and simplify it for you. You don’t have to learn the rest of the steps until you get there.
When you hire an attorney, sometimes you don’t even know fully what you’re hiring them for. You just know you need this outcome. It’s helpful to be like what am I paying for? What’s the process? What am I getting out of this experience? How will you help make my life easier?
Christie actually wrote this plan so that people don’t have to worry, like getting a GPS. When I go someplace, I literally don’t even know. I’m very directionally challenged, but as long as I have my GPS and it has steps, I know I’m going to get there. I can start my GPS and I can start driving and not really understand where I’m going. Just because I just have to take one step at a time. And Christie is sort of like your legal GPS.
I love that.
She’s so much cuter than a GPS. Much more friendly even. I think that you’re clear on the outcome at the very beginning. And that’s the reason why I think your process is very special for that reason, because you can trust that you know where you’re going from the very beginning, that’s your objective as a business owner. It’s also why you’ve been so stellar at getting clients and people just trust you so much. Why you’ve grown so tremendously since you picked this direction is because you’re just really clear and it’s not confusing. When someone is interviewing different attorneys, they know exactly what they’re getting when they’re working with you.
HOW IS WORKING WITH YOU DIFFERENT THAN WORKING WITH OTHER ATTORNEYS ON YOUR ESTATE?
How do you feel that you’re different from other practices? Why did you create this process? How does that make you a different experience? How do you provide a different experience than other law firms?
1. SOMEONE TO WALK WITH YOU THROUGH THE PROCESS
I’m very focused on the client experience and understanding what is going on every step of the way. I consider my clients to be kind of like partners. I’ve worked for multiple firms over my career. I was licensed in 2008. And I know that this is my biggest point of difference.
I want them to know what’s going on the whole time and litigation, which is what my background is, is also very complicated. In litigation many clients wonder what is happening? I developed resources for them to reference so they wouldn’t be confused. I do the same thing with my estate planning, trust and estate administration clients.
I will explain what’s going on every step of the way. And like I was saying before, I think I bring a lot of empathy to the table and I try, try, try to explain things as simply as I can. It’s really difficult. It is sometimes like translating from a different language, but I really want my clients to understand what’s going on.
That’s it. I think that’s helpful to hear, because I think sometimes, you’ve heard all of the attorney jokes, but the people who aren’t attorneys are a little intimidated by attorneys, because they have a lot of knowledge about the legal world. And the lack of our knowledge, those of us who aren’t attorneys, it makes it intimidating or it makes you feel a little exposed. Because you’re like, oh my gosh, I’m going through this process. I don’t even know what to ask for. And I think that the value of being able to have someone explain it to you and talk to you is just helpful because you can feel better about the process, that you understand where you’re going and what’s happening and why. That’s valuable.
2. TRANSPARENT FLAT RATE PRICING
And that’s part of the reason, with my estate planning clients, I’ve developed a flat rate pricing. So there are no surprises. It’s kind of like when you go to the mechanic, your car’s making a weird noise. It’s the worst to go to the mechanic and have them take a look at it because you don’t know what to expect.
So it can be kind of intimidating to work with an attorney. I think we’re known for being incredibly pricey and don’t … Pop culture would say we’re all very greedy. It’s not really the reality. But I think clients come to a first meeting with a lot of fear and confusion maybe or clarity about what’s going on and what to expect. So for my estate planning clients, I developed a flat-rate pricing structure, which just lets them kind of relax a bit through the process. Clients know there’s not going to be any surprises at the end.
I like to say that when you have a car breakdown and you’re like, “Oh no, what is this going to cost me?” If you bring your car into the mechanic, usually the mechanic doesn’t know either until he looks into it. So you’re waiting and sweating knowing you have a problem that needs to be fixed but you don’t know the cost or time it will take. Right? I like to avoid that problem because I like to be able to just tell people from the get-go, your estate plan for this, for these assets is going to cost “X.” Makes it much easier for them.
WHAT PROCESS DID YOU GO THROUGH TO CREATE YOUR SIMPLE BUSINESS MODEL TO HELP PEOPLE?
Well, so I’d be curious to hear, for anyone who owns a business and for who is seeing that you have a very simple process, what I’d like to know is what was the most important steps that you took to get to this point where you have a synthesized business that’s so clear and so effective at helping people to want to sign up to work with you and get the results that they want? What process did you go through?
For sure hiring Emily was very beneficial for me, very beneficial. Like we were talking about a second ago, you sort of went through my processes and you were like, okay, let’s make this easier for people to understand. Which I really, really appreciate because I feel like sometimes when I talk about my businesses or my sorry, my law practice with people, they nod their heads, but maybe they don’t know what I’m talking about. You tell me, you don’t know what I’m talking about. And then it forces me to translate even better. Really trying to make things as simple and straightforward as I possibly can for my clients.
I think that, to anyone watching, what’s helpful is that it’s an iterative process to know you are an expert and a black belt and you have all this industry expertise and knowledge.
It’s so funny. It’s difficult to explain our business where we are experts because we spend so many years learning all the industry lingo. When it comes to explaining how we can help a person who’s supposed to be our client, there is a gap in our knowledge. There has to be a bridge in how we translate how we can help a non-expert.
If I’m hiring an attorney to do my estate planning, I need it to be as simple as possible because I don’t want my lack of understanding to be the reason why I can’t get the outcome. I feel like your empathy and the strategy that you took to be able to break it down into chunks, that it’s step by step and simple, I personally think that increases your ability to close the right client. Because a client can understand, “Oh, is this a good fit for me or not? And what’s the process to get onboarded?”
Simplicity removes friction.
1) The benefit for the customer on the receiving side is that they can really quickly evaluate whether or not you’re the right fit for them, which is wonderful, right? That improves their experience and a chance of hiring the right person for them.
2) The benefit to you will also be able to faster do your sales pitch and close. The more clear you are about the deliverables that you’re offering, the more I can quickly evaluate their fit for me.
The cool outcome you’ve witnessed over the past few years, the more you’ve clarified your process the more you can increase sales of the right customer. That’s a benefit to both the customer and to yourself, wouldn’t you agree?
I do agree. Next step is part of my vocabulary like you would not believe. I think every single email I do with my clients, there is a little thing at the bottom that says next steps, one, two, three, four or one, two. They don’t have to think that hard. It’s right there, at the bottom of an email. They always feel confident that I, at least, know where we’re going. Even if they don’t.
That is a very powerful feeling on something so emotional as you’re figuring out your estate. So I love hearing those things about Christie. And so for anybody who’s watching, I hope you guys took inspiration from Christie. You’re welcome to connect to her on LinkedIn or on Instagram, just to become her friend and to continue to watch her business grow. If anyone, though, watching is interested in actually hiring her to be potentially their attorney to either help them write their estate or wants the estate, if someone else that they know and love as an estate have it executed, they can reach out to Christie.
HOW CAN PEOPLE REACH CHRISTIE ASSELINE?
Christie, could you explain how people can get ahold of you?
Yeah. I’m everywhere. Like Emily was just saying, I’m on LinkedIn. My website is http://lawyercma.com or you can follow me on Instagram @EstatePlanWithChristie as well.
● Please connect to Christie on LinkedIn or Instagram or on our website.
● Christie also has live webinars that are interesting for unique topics. You can go to her website and sign up to be able to be a part of her newsletter.
● If you guys have any questions, of course, leave them in the comments for me or for Christie, we will pass them under her and she can reply.
● Please like this video, if you learned anything. I appreciate your support.
Thank you to everyone who’s been watching! I hope you guys have a great day going from Start to Sold.
ABOUT CHRISTIE ASSELIN:
Christie is an estate planning attorney with an expertise in Will, Trusts and Estate distribution at the Law Office of Christie Asselin.
She is passionate about helping her clients protect their assets, and loved ones through drafting wills, trusts and comprehensive estate plans. She also supports families in honoring the wishes of their loved ones through probate and trust administration. She has been practicing law since 2008 and has earned national recognition through such publications as The New York Times, Slate and About.com.
MORE ABOUT START TO SOLD
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MORE ABOUT EMILY PAGE
Emily is CEO of Pearl Resourcing and has managed and launched multiple 7-figure brands in Costco, Williams-Sonoma, Kroger, and Amazon. She’s bringing you the expertise, resources, and mentors you need so that you can develop products and make them sell. She also offers business growth consulting(https://www.emilyannepage.com) and free advice for brand owners through START TO SOLD (http://starttosoldpodcast.com)