Wills, Trusts and Estates… and the Attorney

The media glamorizes young attorneys as wealthy, strong, and aggressive, among other things. Not to mention we have all heard our fair share of lawyer jokes. The common attorney can fall anywhere on the spectrum from demonized to glorified. While meeting with a local lawyer who practices estate planning, she broke down some stereotypes and spoke to the normal day in the life of practicing law in Corvallis.

The Money
karen misfeldtKaren Misfeldt, a senior partner at Heilig Misfeldt & Armstrong, makes it clear that the glamorous TV portrayal of wealthy lawyers is almost always a myth. She recently learned that an executive director in town makes more money than her as a managing partner of a law firm. She in no way seemed bitter or disheartened by this fact, stating that if she were to move to a bigger city and practice more aggressive law it would be possible to inflate her income. In Misfeldt’s case the income truly seems secondary to the flexibility offered by her job—the flexibility to spend time with her family and go on field trips with her kids. However, she isn’t always eager to disclose her line of work to new acquaintances for fear of judgment or the endless line of lawyer jokes. Misfeldt observed that the common misconception that lawyers are raking in the cash is just that—a misconception, strongly supported by the data.

However, in some instances it is true. According to Indeed.com, a lawyer’s average salary is currently $62,000. This number is swayed by the fact that patent attorneys bring in on average $162,000 a year, while a senior attorney at a law firm averages $62,000. The latter is by no means a bad salary, but there are countless instances of new attorneys struggling from paycheck to paycheck to pay off student loans.

Breaking Stereotypes of the Aggressive, Fast-Talking Litigator; What Is Estate Law?
Misfeldt’s practice is primarily estate planning. Her job involves facing mortality and death on a daily basis. This type of law requires healthy boundaries and self care—which seem to be something Misfeldt has mastered. When some people hear the words lawyer or attorney they automatically think litigator. Litigators have a reputation for being aggressive. However, they, too, require a high level of self care and are people who likely have families and are attempting to make an effort doing what they love. In Misfeldt’s line of work as an estate planner she works with families who are planning for their last days. She walks them through the process of choosing guardians for their children, taking care of their estate, and so much more. Her practice is not aggressive, nor is she a fast talker. Her manner seems more that of a social worker with a deep concern for her clients.

While explaining what goes into estate planning, guardianships, and everything that goes along with the ending of a life, the information is overwhelming. Misfeldt expressed concern about the number of people who neglect to seek out estate planning, and said that many of the ones who do only do so after the death of a loved one—meaning they have to go through the stress and hardship of handling an estate that was not in order and realizing they did not want to put that stress or hardship on those they love.

The research available to back up these statements is nothing short of astounding. According to information published by the Dana Law Firm, 75 percent of families with minors will leave guardianship to the court due to not having a proper guardian appointed by the court. Fifty percent of households with children do not have a will. Reasons people gave for not getting an estate plan include money, complicated paperwork, the belief their estate will automatically go to their next of kin, and perhaps most popular, they don’t want to think about dying.

Misfeldt confirms many of these reasons but cautions that people must not wait too long. Estate planning can only be done when people are healthy enough to make sound choices. Misfeldt holds dear the responsibility to walk people through their final hours, whether those hours are days or many years away from the time she meets them. She makes a commitment that when they pass she will ensure their desires are fulfilled.

Words of Wisdom for Those Pursuing Law
Misfeldt suggested that those pursuing law do so because they have a love for people. She explains the need for patience, and tolerance. She described the days as ever changing, and never knowing what you are going to get—which for her, is wonderful. Overall Misfeldt said she loves her job, and it is easy to come into work each day. It may be hard when a client passes, but she keeps busy assuring that their estate is taken care of just the way they desired, and going home to her family obviously fuels her. The mention of her family seems to change her posture and demeanor, and it seems useless to even ask what gives her the strength and courage to do a difficult job in a primarily male-driven field. However, when asked, her reply is “my family.”

by Amelia Cole