Maximillienne “Max” Elliott is the founder and Managing Attorney at The Law Offices of Max Elliott, Ltd.
With offices in New York, New York, and Chicago, the 10 year old firm represents families and individuals in estate planning, estate administration (including litigation and uncontested cases), and business planning.
Serving estates with a combined size of more than $425 million, the firm’s focus is on helping families maintain and build legacies.
We caught up with Max to learn more about the importance of estate planning in the wealth accumulation and preservation process.
What inspired you to pursue a career in law?
Being of service is very important. Initially, I wanted to be an international human rights advocate. However, when I was a law student, I already had a family member going to “hot spots,” such as Afghanistan, for NATO. So, I decided one family member in hot spots was enough, whereby a domestic-based role would be more prudent and manageable for my family’s collective psyche.
Describe your average client.
No client is “average.” They each have their unique set of circumstances and personalities. Common threads for many of our estate planning clients are the desire to create a legacy, prevent loved ones from going through the arduous estate administration and probate process, and protect loved ones from unfriendly family members.
Our clientele is also very diverse across most milieux – ethnicity, age, occupation.
What would you say is the biggest misconception about estate planning?
A few misconceptions about estate planning are:
(1) Estate planning is only needed if you are wealthy. FALSE. Even if you have a modest estate, where you don’t own real property, you have your personhood, and estate planning instruments such as Medical Advanced Directives, which protect you during your lifetime, and a Last Will and Testament that allows single parents to nominate guardians are critical.
Also, let us think – the wealthy can generally afford to spend tens of thousands on probate and estate administration; those with less wealth cannot.
(2) Estate planning is costly. EXPENSE IS RELATIVE. Estate administration or probate, which is required when no planning is done, is usually double or triple the fees for estate planning and also requires a freezing of assets and potentially unintended beneficiaries, such as half-siblings.
(3) Estate planning is only needed if you have more than one beneficiary. FALSE. If you have a single beneficiary and your assets are not titled properly, financial institutions do not care. They will require your beneficiary to go through probate, regardless of what state law says.
When should individuals or families start putting a wealth preservation plan in place?
Individuals and families should begin crafting a wealth preservation plan as soon as they realize that they are in (or leaving) committed partnerships or have interests but no “real beneficiaries.”
It is sufficiently challenging to lose a loved one, let alone lose a loved one, and be told that for the next year and probably more, you will also have to work with attorneys to receive your inheritance.
For individuals without parents, siblings, and children, the issue is even more salient because, without a plan, complete strangers, e.g., your fifth cousin will inherit your estate.
What are your thoughts on the importance of accumulating and keeping wealth in the Black community?
We must first understand that wealth is accumulated by making wise decisions about money, people, and opportunities and it founds communities when that wisdom is passed up to generations. Wealthy communities tend to be more stable, safer for the vulnerable (children and seniors), and thus, better protected from uncontrollable external forces.
About 1/3 of my time is spent in court and another 1/3 is spent preparing estate plans to keep beneficiaries from fighting and from going to court where a lot of money is spent to send wisdom and wealth outside of our community, eroding the stability and protections our community could use.
In court, a large swath of beneficiaries are Black but a larger swath of attorneys are not. This means that inheritances, which represent wealth that could remain in the Black community, are leaving our community as attorneys’ fees to those who may not even be our allies.
Studies indicate that it will take more than 200 years to close America’s wealth gap, and that’s if nothing is done and things don’t get worse. We are now confronting inflation. I am not an economist, but it seems that the least we can do is create a plan for our families that fosters financial prudence, education in all its forms, protection of our vulnerable, and a pride and love of community in itself that passes up to generations so we, as individuals, families, and a community, become stronger as each decade passes.
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