Kelley is an expert in estate planning, trusts, estate administration, and tax-related issues. She has extensive experience with estate and tax planning for individuals to address issues related to income, gift, generation-skipping, and estate tax matters.
Kelley earned her undergraduate degree from St. Cloud State University, her law degree from the University of Minnesota Law School, and her LLM in estate planning from the University of Miami Law School's nationally renowned Heckerling Graduate Program in Estate Planning.
Question #1 - How did you decide to become an attorney?
I would love to say I knew I wanted to be an attorney since I was a little girl, but no, that answer would be “veterinarian” and it turns out I’m not so good at science. So as with most things in my life, I sort of fell into being at attorney. I graduated college in December with a degree in speech communications and no job prospects. Someone joked in passing that I could be an attorney with that degree. I took the LSAT in February, long after most law school application deadlines had passed. I applied to one school - the University of Minnesota - mainly because their deadline had not yet passed. I was "wait listed" because my LSAT scores were not back. When they got my score, I was accepted. I had 2 weeks to make a decision and move my life to the Twin Cities. I quit my job, ended my lease and started law school. I have never looked back.
Question #2 - Why did you choose to focus on estate planning?
During law school I worked for the public defender’s office. I loved the client contact and helping people, but wasn’t always so fond of my clients. I loved my wills and trusts class and had heard about a legal master’s degree (LLM) just focused on estate planning I could pursue after law school. It cost as much as all three years of law school, so it was a big decision. I took my wills and trusts professor out to coffee and asked if this was a good choice financially and professionally. She had a number of wise words to share: 1) estate planning is the only area of law where your client can be alive or dead, increasing your client base exponentially; 2) no matter what changes are made to the estate/death tax, people will always need estate and succession planning, whether it’s for businesses, special needs, family conflict etc. - your skills as an estate planner will always be in demand; and 3) this is the only area of law where you your clients will pay your legal fees with a smile, because, when you do your job right, you have just saved that family thousands of dollars, years of stress, and helped them complete probably the most important documents they will sign in their lifetime. You are safeguarding everything they have worked for their entire life for the people and causes they love most.
That conversation helped me decide to attend the Heckerling Estate Planning LLM at the University of Miami, the only estate planning LLM in the country. I was one of 15 students accepted into the program that year. I spent an intensive year of study on everything estate planning and have worked in the area of estate planning since graduating. I still attend the Heckerling Estate Planning Conference in Orlando every 2 years.
Question # 3 - What about being an attorney do you like the most?
As much as I love my clients, I equally enjoy research, writing and constant learning. I love to “nerd out” with a well-written article on planning with life insurance or a book on succession planning with retirement accounts. I read these things for fun! It’s an added perk that everything I read or every class I attend only serves to benefit my clients with additional knowledge and planning techniques.
Despite being an attorney, I am not fighter and avoid conflict when I can. Estate planning lets me have an ideal balance of client contact, drafting, reading and research with an occasional disagreement thrown in.
Question #4 - Please describe the core beliefs that guide you and your practice.
No matter how “routine” or “simple” you think your estate planning needs are, every situation is unique and deserves to be respected and treated as such. Estate planning brings you face-to face-with your own mortality and has you discussing different scenarios involving your loved ones. It is sometimes confusing and people procrastinate for many reasons. But I strongly believe that estate planning is the single most important thing that a person or couple can do in their entire life, no matter their situation.
Estate planning isn’t always cheap, but people buy necessities such as a car, washing machine, splurging on a well-deserved vacation, etc. and neglect the well-being and future of the finances they have literally worked for their entire life. Estate planning is worth the investment ten-fold and “you get what you pay for” especially applies to estate planning documents. I try to make it interesting, understandable and even fun! It’s important that people understand what they are signing and are comfortable calling me with questions not only during the drafting process but anytime questions arise, even if that is 10 years later.
This area of law has shown me the best of people. Nothing surprises me anymore, but there’s still much that inspires me every day!