South Florida lawyer Dan P. Heller chatted with INDULGE about his 30-plus year trajectory and what his plans are for expansion in 2019.
How long has the firm been serving South Florida clients? I have been practicing law in South Florida for more than 35 years. My partner, Alex Espenkotter, has been practicing with me for more than 20 years.
How many attorneys work for the firm? We have three attorneys in the firm. Alex Espenkotter and I both have advanced Master of Laws Degrees (LLMs) in Estate Planning from the University of Miami School of Law and are board certified by the Florida Bar in Wills, Trusts and Estates. In addition, I am a Fellow of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel (ACTEC). Our attorneys have been widely recognized locally and nationally for our expertise.
What are the firm’s legal specialties? We are a boutique firm specializing in estate, business and asset protection planning. Our estate planning services include preparation of wills, trusts, powers of attorney and related documents, tax reduction strategies, probate, guardianship and trust administration. Our business practice includes selection and creation of appropriate entities, considering state and federal tax consequences, ease or complexity of creation and operation, business succession issues and the relationships between the owners. Asset protection planning involves an assessment of a client’s exposure to potential liabilities and counseling them on how to reduce that exposure. When clients have extensive exposure due to their particular profession or business, we help them restructure their assets using a combination of creditor protected trusts, limited liability companies, limited partnerships and other techniques that reduce or eliminate the ability of a judgment creditor to attach assets.
What is the best part about practicing law in South Florida? The best part of practicing in South Florida is the diversity of the clients we serve. Our clients range from hard-working individuals concerned about their families, small business owners, entrepreneurs, large-scale real estate investors and everyone in between, who have local, national and international interests. The variety of issues we see, as well as the people themselves, keep our practice interesting, challenging and rewarding.
What sets your firm apart from others? We combine the extensive experience gained while practicing at several of South Florida’s major law firms with the personal service, special attention and flexibility only a boutique firm setting can provide. Being able to spend sufficient time listening to clients and helping them formulate and achieve their goals is crucial. It enables us to provide well-structured plans tailored to fit each client’s distinct relationships, types of accumulated assets, business concerns, potential tax liability and exposure to risk.
Is there a particular case you can mention that exemplifies the firm’s work and success? Due to the nature of our practice, our client matters are not public. Therefore, we cannot mention our client’s names or provide information that might indicate who they are. Nevertheless, I can describe a couple of our more interesting matters in general terms.
Years before the recent recession, I implemented an estate plan for a highly leveraged real estate developer, which included a structure to protect his accumulated assets that were not subject to mortgages or other liens associated with his business. When real estate values bottomed out, he found himself with mortgage and other debt in excess of $25 million over the value of the underlying properties. After protracted litigation and negotiation with his lenders, they foreclosed on the properties, but were unable to attach any of his other assets. If he had not had engaged in the planning we did for him, he would have lost everything he had, except his home, which was his protected homestead.
We have many clients who, as part of their estate tax reduction planning, have made sales of their assets to trusts for the benefit of their children or other intended beneficiaries. These sales are structured to avoid any income tax consequences, provide for lifetime payments back to the client/seller and remove the assets from the client’s taxable estate. One client in particular, a very successful physician, who unfortunately had a terminal illness, engaged in such a sale. Without the transaction, his estate would have incurred more than $6 million in estate tax. Instead, at the time of his death, there was no estate tax liability.
What is something people may not know about your firm that you would like them to know? We are concerned about our community and thankful for the opportunities we have. As such, we all support and participate in local charitable organizations, as well as national organizations of particular interest to our friends, family and clients. Often, our clients want to create their own charitable organizations, which we assist them in doing. I encourage everyone to give something back to his or her community whenever possible.
Does the firm have any major plans for 2019? We are planning on doubling the size of our office and adding staff to serve our clients more efficiently. In addition, we have acquired an attorney from a large South Florida firm whose specialty was real estate to expand the real estate aspects of our planning practice.