When I began practicing law as a tax lawyer (many years ago!), I thought my job was to help my clients save
taxes. However, my mentor soon straightened me out. He helped me realize that a lawyer’s job was to help
clients realize their goals, for themselves and their families. Of course, the less they pay in taxes, the more
they will have available to meet these goals. This realization has guided me in the practice of law for more
than four decades
Tax savings are not the goal of estate planning, but only a “tool” to give my clients greater ability to
achieve their goals, to live a comfortable life and to enjoy the fruits of their labors.
Then, with good integrated income, estate and property tax planning, my clients can maximize the help they
give their beneficiaries (spouses, children, grandchildren, other family, friends and sometimes charities) and
themselves to live a better life or do good works.
In my experience, it is rare to see two clients which have exactly the same non-tax goals for themselves and
their wealth. However, there are several common themes that show up over and over again when we work
with estate planning clients, particularly that “greatest generation” that has worked so hard and sacrificed so
much to build real estate wealth.
First Common Theme – Clients
Want to Maintain their Lifestyle
Almost every client wants to make sure he or she will be able to maintain his/her lifestyle, and that his/her
wealth will maintain, or even enhance, the lifestyle for any surviving spouse after the client passes. Good
trust planning supports this desire.
Sometimes this means finding ways for clients to liquidate a portion of a real estate portfolio nurtured by the
client’s hard work (and, often, material sacrifices) over decades, without suffering confiscatory taxes.
During a client’s life, this is one of the main intersections between non-tax goals and tax saving tools.
Fortunately, the law still allows for several tax strategies that can help our clients and surviving spouses
during their lives, including 1031 exchanges, Qualified Opportunity Zones, Capital Gains Bypass Trusts,
strategies to facilitate a 100% step-up in basis when the first spouse passes, and our Accelerated Step-Up (in
tax basis) Strategy, or “ASUS.”
Second Common Theme – Provide for Proper
Management of Clients’ Property If the
Client Becomes Incapacitated
With the advances in modern medical care, most of us will experience a short, or maybe a long, period of
incapacity in our lives. Good estate planning provides for how our property, and our care, will be handled
during any such period.
Third Common Theme – Control the
Passage of Property After Death
While this is the most traditional part of estate planning, a good Estate Planning Attorney takes the time to
help clients understand (and then implement) their options to:
Give WHAT they want
WHEN they want
To WHOM they want [and]
The WAY they want.
Helping clients understand their options for doing all of this is one of the most satisfying parts of being an
estate planning attorney.
That last part, leaving wealth the WAY clients want, can make the difference between an estate plan that
really meets client goals, and one which just distributes property.
Planning for the WAY to leave wealth often involves structuring trusts that last for generations. Such trusts
can protect children, grandchildren and beyond from losing wealth to ex-spouses and creditors, or to
unnecessary taxes (another intersection between tax and non-tax goals). These trusts can also help avoid
“affluenza” (a “disease” where inherited wealth kills the incentive of younger generations to live sober and
productive lives). Trusts can also be used to protect heirs from their own imprudence or lack of judgment or
Some clients want such trusts to encourage, or require, heirs to continue holding some portion of inherited
wealth in existing real estate investments, or replacing sold property with other real estate. Many times,
clients also want to structure these trusts to minimize conflicts among heirs, or provide for ways to resolve
conflicts efficiently and without wasteful litigation.
Make Sure YOUR Planning Does Not
Become Hazardous to Family Wealth
Sound estate planning takes an investment in time between clients and an estate planner who will help clients
explore planning options, evaluate them and implement them. There is no “one size fits all.” And, it usually
requires balancing tax savings and vital family non-tax goals.
I have been lucky in my practice to be joined in planning by my wife, Hinda. She has important advantages I
will never have: (i) She brings the perspective of a wife, mother and grandmother to the process; and (ii) she
is NOT an attorney (so, sometimes, she speaks real English without legal jargon better than I can).
There are many tax reasons to re-evaluate your planning, since changes in the law have made many old plans
“HAZARDOUS” from a tax standpoint, particularly for long-time property owners.
But, even clients who have no concern about tax savings often benefit from restructuring their plans to meet
non-tax goas. The latter becomes even more significant as your children or other heirs mature, allowing you
to customize the planning to the heirs you have, instead of the ones you thought you would have when they
Kenneth Ziskin and the AOA will present further information on these topics at seminars on ESTATE
PLANNING FOR APARTMENT OWNERS on June 20 th in Van Nuys and June 27th in Buena Park.
Seminars in Oakland and San Jose will be scheduled later this year. Contact the AOA to register at (800)
Ken is an estate planning attorney who focuses on integrated estate and tax planning for apartment owners.
He also assists owners’ families with probate and trust administration. He holds the coveted AV Preeminent
peer reviewed rating for Ethical Standards and Legal Ability from Martindale-Hubbell, and a perfect 10 out
of 10 rating from legal website AVVO.COM.
Ken’s website at www.ZiskinLaw.com has information about his estate planning process and reviews of his
work by his clients. He offers free Living Trust and advanced planning consultations for AOA members and
meets with clients from his home office in Sherman Oaks, and in Torrance, Orange County, Oakland and
San Jose by appointment. He can be reached at (818) 988-0949.