Old Money: In Their Own Words

OMG and contributor “Mary Louise Case” (not her real name, for those of you who’ve inquired) has more on her mind.


The luck of the draw

An aspect of Old Money that people often cite with wonder is the ever-present luck which Old Money enjoys. From the outside looking in, it appears there is some weird magic which steamrolls any tedious issue or temporary setback out of the way. Well, we have a so-called ‘dirty little secret’.

There’s a famous anecdote about an elderly fish swimming along one morning and asking two teenaged fish, “How’s the water today, boys?” The young fish respond with confusion, “What is water?”

While growing up my ‘water’ was in being surrounded by attorneys related to me. These lawyers ran their own firms, worked for the federal government, worked in corporate law as general counsel, worked as senior partners for national law firms, and some worked for specific groups that lobby the U.S. government.  When you grow up hearing about how the law works and how people who are outside this loop make terrible mistakes costing upwards of millions of dollars, you come to your senses quickly, even as a 12-year-old.

I’ve offered advice to college friends who have kids in their mid-20s in this regard. “Have these kids skip a vacation this year and sit down with a family attorney,” I suggest. I ask them to get their kids to discuss their current apartment lease, show this attorney their last two years of tax returns, ask about an upcoming car purchase, review auto insurance, and get to know their lawyer and what he/ she can help explain about the grown-up world.

I recommend that by the age of 30, this same adult child of my friend should have roughly a $2k retainer with their lawyer’s firm (check with the attorney first). This will help pay for ongoing legal advice for the types of issues they will face as they get married, as they purchase their first home, among other things.

Further meetings with counsel could cover any issues regarding employment contracts, family trusts, investment dividend taxation, business separation agreements, and certainly any “business” people in their community who approach these young adults about a hot(!) investment opportunity “they really shouldn’t pass up.” (wink, nod)

Having a professional advocate in the legal field — to my way of thinking — is one of the safest bets you can make to preserve your wealth, to understand contract law while you’re making a major purchase, and even to understand the changes taking place in your city which may affect your future tax situation. Successful attorneys circulate with each other socially through professional events, and many are published in legal journals as well as provide free, i.e., pro bono, work to charities in your same town or village.

Not only are these lawyers connected to the contractual goings-on around your city, but each attorney becomes an interesting database for one another when they tell stories, privately, of luck or disaster visited on their own clients. Those stories may get back to you as a lesson learned by your attorney who now can give you legal advice far more valuable than what is merely in their law library and the dozens of court decisions they need to keep up with monthly. The value of a brilliant lawyer working for you will make you believe you can mint luck from your home office forever.

Of course with each zero-year birthday I tell my friends to make sure their kids up their retainer at their lawyer’s office. On a 40th birthday make it $4k, and at 50 they should set aside around $8,000 for the tax issues regarding retirement, second-home purchases, probate, insurance policies, health care instructions in case of an accident, taxes involved in the sale of assets and on and on.  Again, check with your attorney on their hourly rates and retainer requirements. However, the idea is always to set aside this money for legal services so there is no excuse for skipping your lawyer’s review of your financial situation.

The attorney provides an itemized billing of services offered which are deducted from the amount you have on retainer and you generally pay on receipt of further billings. Again, the reason for the initial retainer is to force the discipline of keeping in contact with an advocate of your best legal interests based on what you’ve acquired and the laws in place regulating the legal aspects of continued ownership (and tax obligations!) of same.

THIS is how very Old Money hangs on to what they’ve acquired: risks are minimized via legal understanding of the framework of new financial arrangements and informed decisions are made, for instance, when a married couple decides what to do with a sudden windfall or what funds to draw on for their children’s tuition.

I joke with friends that a good attorney is the world’s best cure for insomnia; he or she will help you sleep at night no matter what issues you face in receiving a tax bill or in turning down the latest hot investment scam – er, opportunity.

Those who see that you haven’t gone through a financial reversal or haven’t had a business seized or a vacation property slapped with a lien will call you “lucky” when you’re just enjoying the water.

  • “Mary Louise Case”

9 thoughts on “Old Money: In Their Own Words

  1. Wonderful advice. Just saying “Let me have my attorney review this” changes everything. A job may not work out and you have to sign papers not to sue, have your attorney review. If you are a parent and find something illegal in your child’s room or car. Call your attorney, they can invoke Client/Attorney privilege and get the illegal material out of your house and turned into the authorities. Before your kid goes off to college a quick talk with an attorney on marijuana. Sure it may be a small infraction, but if you are near an elementary school it may not be. Yes, some the scenarios are a bit low class, but you never know. My mistake was this: like most of us I have a big old house and it needed painting I was quoted a number and had the work done and ended up paying 10,000.00 more than what was agreed to. WHY – I didn’t have my attorney review the contract.Couple more examples, let’s say you buy a used Volvo at an estate sale and after you take ownership you find a firearm in the seat, get the heck out of the car and get your attorney. If the gun was used in a crime and crossed a stateliness you can be in big trouble. Let’s say you have an eccentric Uncle who wants to use you home address to receive mail or packages, just tell him you need to speak with your attorney first.

  2. I usually tell young people who ask for career advice to ‘study law’. It doesn’t matter if you open a business, become a pilot, a school teacher or a physician you need to know the law as well. Not only will it serve you from a knowledge point of view, people will simply treat you differently. I have seen it.

    1. Thank you, I read a book after my wife gave birth to a boy, 10 years ago. As decent people it’s very important to buffer ourselves against undesirable situations and people. My attorney researched my neighborhood and house before I moved in. For example people work hard in my area and there are noise restrictions on Sunday, (No lawn mowing). Attorneys have tools like Nexus or Lexus so if someone just seems to appear in your life you can find out if they are genuine or they read about you and don’t have your best interests. Here is another example that anyone of us. Let’s say you are going away for a month or two in the summer. In my town July is dog license month. You get a cute note on your door to remind, next if don’t don’t do anything the dog warden will drop by all smiles with an application, if still do nothing the police will give you a ticket, if you still don’t do anything IT”S ATTORNEY TIME, now you have a warrant to appear before a judge over 5.00 dog lic. . Even if your going to buy a dog check with your attorney. That pit bull you adopted from a shelter will raise your homeowners insurance or may get you kicked out a community if you live in one.

  3. This is very valuable advice. Money spent from sitting with a trusted attorney can in the long run be wise. Especially in terms of tax law in different states. I’ve known individuals who ended up paying a lot of money in tax fines. Simply because they were unaware of their state’s tax laws. Always wise to ask someone more knowledgeable for advice. This can save one a lot of heartache and stress.

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