Our loved ones are the most valuable aspect of life, and we go to great lengths to ensure they are safe, protected, and well cared for. It only makes sense that we’d want that to continue well after we’re gone, and one of the easiest ways to do that is by having an estate plan in place. Unfortunately, many people neglect to do so despite life events such as marriage, having children, divorce, or becoming widowed, and they end up with additional worries during the sorrow and stress of losing a loved one, or additional burdens are placed upon their children when something happens to themselves. Yet all it takes is a trusted, experienced, and caring attorney to help navigate the estate planning process.
Lisa Lehan has always had the passion to care for people. As a child growing up in Kearney, NE, she knew she wanted to be a lawyer because she thought it’d be a good way to help others. She attended Creighton University with law school in mind, and after earning her accounting degree, she continued right into law school. Lehan’s knack for numbers made estate and tax planning a natural fit, and after working in private practice and in-house for a Fortune 500 company, she joined Koley Jessen in December of 2015 and became a shareholder in May of 2016. With a specialty in tax controversy, she helped grow the firm’s tax practice group while also focusing on estate planning.
At the most basic level, an estate plan is made up of four documents: a last will and testament, a revocable trust, a durable power of attorney, and an advance directive. Depending upon a person’s family objectives and level of wealth, some individuals may need additional documents, but anyone who owns a home or has children should have the basic documents in place to handle financial matters. In addition, everyone should designate a person to make medical decisions on their behalf. “It’s important to have a plan in place so your family can focus on other things while they’re grieving,” Lehan said. “Even with a plan, it’s understandably an overwhelming time, so all a family member has to do is call me and I can help them through the process of executing the plan.”
One of the biggest misconceptions about estate planning is that it’s as simple as filling out a form found online. Lehan explained it’s a lot more involved than that. In fact, much of what Lehan does is educate clients about what each document means and help them understand how property flows once someone has passed away. She draws diagrams and flowcharts so her clients have a picture of their individual plan, which is often easier to follow than reading legal documents.
Another barrier is that people are afraid to make the decisions necessary for an estate plan, such as who will be the guardian of your minor children or who will make medical decisions if you cannot make them yourself. As a mother of three young kids, Lehan has had to make these same decisions herself, and she explains that some decisions may change over time. For example, if you have additional children, perhaps your guardian nomination changes. “I tell clients about my own decision-making process and provide suggestions for them to consider,” she said. “You can make changes to your estate plan as circumstances change, and you should review your plan every few years for this reason, but making an initial decision is important. At the end of the day, it’s better to have something in place rather than nothing.”
On the tax controversy side, Lehan helps businesses and business owners resolve tax disputes, including income tax, sales tax, employment tax, and penalty matters. With both tax and estate planning, Lehan said the work has so many nuances that it’s different and challenging every day. And Koley Jessen has been rapidly growing—with 84 attorneys and 140 total employees—to better serve clients. “We have a very driven team that is smart, fun, and energetic. We all keep each other motivated to provide client service that is above and beyond,” she said.
Lehan also appreciates how supportive her team is so that she can enjoy a healthy balance of work and home life, which she said requires having a strong support system. “My husband and I have a true partnership, we both have parents who help out, and we have quality educators and child care for our kids. I also have a good group of friends who are professional working moms with kids the same age, so we support each other as well.”
Although nobody wants to discuss what happens after they pass away, Lehan can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have that estate plan in place. She and her firm have gone to great lengths to help alleviate any anxiety one might have over meeting with an attorney, from the comfortable, bright, inviting office space to Lehan’s caring approach. “If you choose the right firm and the right lawyer, there’s nothing to be anxious about,” she said. “There’s a reason attorneys are called ‘counselors.’ We are here to listen and help you make these decisions so that you can feel confident your family will be cared for.”