After Hours with Patty Stotzheim

/ June 2, 2011


  • How long have I been practicing?

I have been an attorney since 2006.

  • What led me to estate planning?

When I worked for Judge Yunker, it seemed that she was assigned every complicated and unusual probate case in Sherburne County.  Thus, as her law clerk, I had to learn the probate statutes and rules to advise her and draft orders in these probate cases.  I found that I really enjoyed the contested cases because it wrapped all the drama of family dynamics into high stakes litigation.  Some attorneys do not like the unpredictability and intensity of those types of cases, but I am drawn to it.  I like being the calm among the storm for my clients.

  • Biggest misconception people have about estate planning?

I have found that most people think estate planning is only for rich people.  Not true!  Although an estate plan is not a small-ticket item, the value of an estate plan is worth every penny spent.

  • Favorite aspect of helping individuals create an estate plan:

I like that I can usually bring some levity to topics of grave seriousness.  I am definitely sensitive to the difficulty experienced by parents trying to visualize what their child’s life would be like without them, and there are times when such a thought brings tears to my client’s eyes.  However, once the plan is complete, my clients usually leave my office with a great feeling of relief knowing that they are providing the best plan for their child should they not be there to care for them.

  • When do you recommend to start thinking about a will?

If a young person in his or her twenties starts to accumulate even some modest savings or acquires an asset such as a home, he or she should think about an estate plan.  The estate plan may or may not involve a will, but other tools such as transfer on death deed for real estate and a health care directive may be exactly what they need.  Individuals or couples who are expecting a child should definitely get their estate plan in order!

  • Best piece of advice you share with your clients?

Once a client has actually followed through with executing the estate plan, I highly encourage them to take the next step of organizing all their information that will be needed by their personal representative and informing that personal representative where to find the important documents. Being a personal representative can be a really hard job because the person is still grieving the loved one’s death, but must also take responsibility for gathering all the information needed to assess the nature and extent of the loved one’s estate.  It makes it much easier on the personal representative if all the important information is in one place.

  • Interesting anecdotes?

Most of my contested probate cases have such outrageous facts involved that you probably wouldn’t even believe me.  Speaking of these cases, a judge I know often said, “You can’t make this stuff up.”  I have no doubts that the decedents of the contested cases are looking down in disbelief, too.