One of our biggest events to attend each January is the Heckerling Institute on Estate Planning in Orlando. The University of Miami School of Law puts educational programming together for estate planning professionals including attorneys, accountants, financial advisors, trust officers, charitable giving professionals, insurance advisors, elder law specialists, nonprofit advisors, and more. This year, the conference drew over 3,400 attendees. We sat down with Fontaine Lee, Senior Vice President and Development Officer, and Jennie Menzie, Executive Vice President, Director of Strategic Planning and Assistant General Counsel, for a Q&A to learn more about Heckerling 2019.
We heard Heckerling drew its largest attendance yet this year. How do you feel the crowd compared to past Heckerling conferences?
FL: This was Cumberland Trust's third consecutive year exhibiting at Heckerling, and we've attended frequently for the past five years. It did feel larger than in previous years. The exhibitor area extended into the lobby, and the hotel restaurants and bars were more crowded. The lines for breakfast and coffee were definitely longer!
In 2018, there was a focus on income tax planning due to the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which increased the estate tax exemption to $11.2 million per person. Did speakers focus on income tax planning again this year? Were there any new insights on the issue?
JM: Yes, there continued to be much discussion about the impact of the 2017 Tax Act. Along with income tax planning, there was a focus on basis planning. There are many opportunities for estate planning attorneys to get creative here.
So, with the increased estate tax exemption, have trusts become irrelevant for most families?
FL: Trusts are still relevant for families, regardless of whether there is a taxable estate. There was quite a bit of discussion around the benefits of trusts in protecting assets, maintaining harmony (or at least civility) in a blended family, and ensuring assets stay in the bloodline.
JM: Complicated family dynamics and relational issues such as blended families, mental illness, substance abuse or special needs are often why we see families using trusts. Often, tax implications are secondary concerns.
What was your biggest takeaway from the conference?
FL: My biggest take away from Heckerling is that the only certain thing in estate planning is uncertainty! Luckily, there are so many great people practicing in this area to guide clients through whatever is to come. The attorneys, CPAs and financial advisors we visited with are all incredibly bright and care about helping clients, whether it’s simple planning, a massively complex estate plan for a taxable estate, or even working through a tough situation that may involve litigation between family members.
Why does Cumberland Trust choose to be an exhibitor at Heckerling each year?
FL: It’s a great way to kick off the year, hearing from so many professionals with different perspectives. Heckerling provides an opportunity for:
- our in-house JDs, JD/LLMs, and CPAs to get pertinent information about recent legislative changes and tax cases;
- our business development team to meet new people, reconnect with old friends and start thinking strategically about the year ahead; and
- those of us in different Cumberland Trust offices to spend some time together.
Next, we asked Fontaine and Jennie a few fun questions to better understand the culture and atmosphere at Heckerling.
Who gets the best booth award?
FL & JM: Doyle, hands down. Their booth area was beautifully set up with fine art and auction objects, plus they had a great giveaway (baseball hats) and gorgeous flower arrangements.
What was the best giveaway or prize you saw?
FL: I’m biased but I think Cumberland Trust’s cooler was the best giveaway, and I must say, I think others do too. When we first did it, it was the only one on the floor—now there are several. But they aren’t filled with local treats and gifts like ours.
Attendees often tell us that our “Pepe print” watercolor notecards featuring paintings by our CEO, Joseph K. Presley, are the best giveaway because they are unique. No one has anything like that. Plus, they are useful!
Personally, I like the pop sockets and wine stoppers we saw this year. I did have an attorney complain that he didn’t have a wine glass in his room, so maybe someone should give out wine glasses next year!
Where was the best spot to grab a coffee or a cocktail?
FL: Best coffee: Definitely the hotel Starbucks. The morning rush is crazy, but they handle it well. It gets quiet in the afternoon, so it’s a good place to have a meeting or catch up on some work there.
For cocktails, I like the bar at Latitudes and Longitudes. It’s the perfect spot to grab a refreshment after the program ends for the day or a pre-dinner beverage. It’s a little quieter and less crowded than other options.
After dinner, the main hotel bar is great. Especially if it’s nice out and you can snag a seat by the fire pit.
We are looking forward to Heckerling 2020 and hope to see you there!
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