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  • Ruce - PhotoName: Philip J. Ruce
  • Employer: Stone Arch Law Office, PLLC
  • Position: Attorney
  • Location: Minneapolis
  • Education: University of Minnesota (B.A.), William Mitchell College of Law (J.D.), Thomas Jefferson School of Law (LL.M.)

How long have you been practicing?

I opened my practice in February of 2014 after spending six years in trust and estate administration.

What led you to practice in the area of estate planning?

When I was growing up, my grandmother was the trustee of a number of family trusts. I remember always being curious about what it meant to be a trustee and why one would or could have a trust—the investing and asset management aspect of these trusteeships was likely the inspiration behind my previous career in banking and investment sales. Estate planning seemed a logical extension of this type of planning work, and I began law school specifically with the goal of working in this field.

What is one of the biggest misconceptions people have about estate planning?

That you can fill out a form and call it an estate plan. Every client has something or someone that requires some additional care. There are no “simple wills.”

What is your favorite aspect of helping individuals create their estate plan?

When I was working in trust administration, I dealt with some extremely advanced estate planning strategies. I knew when I began my practice that I would be working much more closely with individuals and families who are a lot more like me—those whose concerns are less about advanced estate tax avoidance and asset protection and more about making sure their children are safe and well cared-for. What I did not anticipate was how much I would love it.

When do you recommend that an individual start thinking about his or her estate plan?

Everyone who is over eighteen needs to have the most basic planning documents, which are a health care directive and a power of attorney document. I actually think these are more important than a will, because we are more likely to need someone to temporarily step in on our behalf and make decisions for us than we are to die. That said, once there are minor children in the picture, young families must think about a will so that guardians and trustees can be appointed, should they be needed. From a legal standpoint, it’s the most important thing a young parent can do.

What is a best piece of advice that you share with clients as they think about their estate plan?

Find an attorney with whom you feel comfortable. Estate planning is a field of law that is more intimate than some—your goals, your hopes, and your fears are important things to consider, and it’s important that you feel comfortable sharing these with your lawyer. Sometimes I think estate planning brings a new meaning to the term “counselor at law” because of the importance of bringing these concerns to the forefront.

 Any interesting anecdotes?

Too many to count! The most memorable usually revolve around the phrase “thank goodness the money was held in a trust.” I have worked with many trust beneficiaries who are vulnerable; whether due to physical, emotional, or mental disability, age, substance abuse, or just poor judgment—having a trustee watch out for a trust beneficiary’s best financial interests is an incredibly powerful tool. It ensures that resources are used for the best possible reasons. Estate and trust planning is an incredible practice area; I truly believe it’s the most fulfilling area of law in which an attorney can choose to work.



Parents and Kid - iStockI often hear in conversation (and I once believed this too!) that if a minor child has godparents, then the same people will be legal guardians of the child if something happens to the child’s parents. This is not true. Godparents and guardians are two different roles and are appointed in different ways.


A godparent is someone who sponsors a child’s baptism into a church, usually a church of some Christian denomination. During a baptism, the godparent or godparents make profession of faith for the child being baptized (the godchild) and assume an obligation to serve as proxies for the parents if the parents either are unable or neglect to provide for the religious training of the child. A godparent is more a ceremonial role in a child’s life; churches have no power to appoint legal guardians for children. However, historically, the godparent was viewed as the person to be guardian of a child if the parents were deceased or unable, which is why this modern day misconception exists.


A guardian, on the other hand, is a person or persons formally named in a Will. The nominated guardian is the person who a court would appoint as being legal guardian of a child, should both parents pass and/or be unable to care for the child. Here at Epilawg, we’ve had many posts on items to consider when naming a guardian (see Anna Lima’s post, Appointing a Guardian for Minor Children and  Jamie Held’s post, Naming a Guardian) in your Will.

Things to Consider

The same people can be named in both roles. However, there may be good reason to select different people for different reasons in each role. As most would assume, there are many more responsibilities with being a guardian than there being a godparent.

Keep in mind, that if a child has godparents and no guardians, if something does happen to the child’s parents, the court would take into consideration who was a godparent when considering who to appoint as the child’s guardian.

Another item to consider is that godparents are chosen only once, while parents can change the nominated guardians. So, as relationships change and evolve over time, it may become important for a parent to update their Will to name different guardians. This cannot be done with godparents.

Given all of the above, if you need to nominate a guardian in your Will (or make changes to this nomination), be sure to contact an estate planning attorney in your area.


Trustee Certificate - iStockAs everyone mourns the death of Robin Williams and reflects on his tremendous talents, we estate planning attorneys can’t help but wonder, did Robin Williams do any estate planning?

It is apparent that Robin Williams had a very successful career. What is unclear is the true value of his estate. Some reports indicate that Robin Williams was close to filing bankruptcy, while others report that he had equity in real estate upwards of $25 million. If the latter is true, one can only hope that Robin Williams took the time to do some estate planning.

Robin Williams’ family would surely benefit from any preplanning he may have done. He was married to his third wife at the time of his death, and he left behind three children between the ages of 22 and 31. Some of Robin Williams’ past estate planning documents have been leaked to the press, documents in which Robin Williams’ agents claim are void. The documents were akin to Irrevocable Life Insurance Trusts, allowing for staggered trust distributions to his children: 1/3 at 21; 1/3 at 25; and a 1/3 at 30.

What has yet to be confirmed is whether Robin Williams had any type of Revocable Trust in his estate plan. For the real estate alone, this could be significant. If the real estate was held in a Revocable Trust, no probate matter would need to be commenced to transfer the assets to his heirs. Similar to the laws in Minnesota, under California law, if Robin Williams did not have a trust and owned real estate when he passed away, a probate matter would need to be commenced to pass the real estate on to his heirs. However, if the allegations that he held his real estate in trust are true, under the name of The Domus Dulcis Domus Holding Trust, his real estate could escape the probate courts all together.

While probate does not need to be costly for all matters in Minnesota, a probate matter dealing with multi-million dollar real estate in California certainly would be. In California, the filing fees are much higher and occur both at the inception of the probate proceeding and at the close of the proceeding. What becomes most concerning with Robin Williams’ estate is the amount of attorney’s fees that his heirs would incur in this type of probate proceeding.

In most states, probate attorneys charge by the hour or collect a flat fee for attorney’s fees. The fee arrangement is usually based on the concept of “reasonableness.” However, that is not the case in California. California is one of only a few states (Florida is another example) that allow attorneys to be paid based on a statutory fee. The attorney’s fees are based on the value of the assets that pass through probate. The fees are set forth in the state statutes (Cal. Probate Code §§ 10810, 10811).

Current Rates:

  • 4% of the first $100,000 of the gross value of the probate estate
  • 3% of the next $100,000
  • 2% of the next $800,000
  • 1% of the next $9 million
  • .5% of the next $15 million

If Robin Williams’ estate passes through probate, the attorney involved stands to benefit quite substantially under the current estimates of the value of his estate. For if Robin Williams utilized a Revocable Trust, his assets could pass directly to his family, saving them thousands of dollars in court costs and attorney’s fees.

Rest in Peace Robin Williams.

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