After Hours with Robert J. Lawton, Jr.

/ June 15, 2011
  • Employer:  Ginkel & Gallagher
  • Position:  Attorney
  • Location:  Woodbury
  • Education:  JD, Hamline University School of Law; BA, University of St. Thomas


  • How long have you been practicing?

I have been practicing in the area of estate planning since 2006, and as an attorney since 2004. I previously worked at a large Minneapolis law firm focused on civil litigation.

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

I love being able to connect with and help real people in my work as an attorney, and estate planning is an area that allows me to do this. Working at a large firm and representing corporations in lawsuits was not very satisfying for me, so I made the decision to leave it behind.

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

That all you need to do is sign a Will and you’re done!  Wills are an important piece of estate plans, but even those with modest estates need to do more (considering how best to title real estate, how best to make use of beneficiary designations etc.).  And those with significant wealth need to consider how estate and gift taxes impact their planning.

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

Clients doing estate planning are often very concerned their lack of a plan will cause problems for their loved ones, and watching that concern turn into peace of mind and confidence their family will be taken care of is incredibly rewarding.

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

Every adult would be doing their loved ones a favor by doing at least some basic estate planning. Those most urgently in need of estate planning though are 1) parents with young children and no plan in place, 2) those with non-traditional families and no plan in place, and 3) those with over $1 million estates and no plan in place. If a baby enters the picture, you enter into non-traditional family relationships, or you realize you’re a millionaire with no estate plan, those things should trigger a visit to an estate planning attorney.

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

That estate planning is not a set it and forget it affair. What makes most sense now will almost certainly not continue to make sense for decades to come, and it is important to review estate plans periodically, and to always be on the lookout for events that should trigger an urgent review (designated guardians or representatives move far away, get too old to act or pass away; divorces; beneficiaries develop drinking or drug problems or demonstrate problems with handling money, etc.).

  • Any interesting anecdotes?

I once had a client who took issue with sentence structure and grammar in a Will, and wanted me to change things around on every page of a long Will just to improve in these areas. The Will draft was marked up like a high school English paper. I did my best to explain that Wills are intentionally not great works of English literature, and the important thing was avoiding ambiguity and ensuring wishes would be followed. After discussing mark-ups on the first couple pages, I let the client know I would certainly take the time to walk through all the mark-ups and make changes, but my fees would be pushed way up – that quickly changed the client’s mind and the client signed the version I prepared without any changes.

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