After Hours with Philip J. Ruce

/ August 28, 2014
  • 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.


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