Spotlight: E. Jack Walker
30-Year Board Certified Specialist in Estate Planning and Probate Law, Durham, NC
What made you decide to pursue certification?
I was certified in 1990 when the certification program was only about two years old, as I remember. In the late 70s to early 80s, I had served as a hospital trustee and had become very impressed with the credentialing process doctors had to go through to obtain hospital privileges. I wondered why we lawyers did not have the same specialization regime as doctors. My practice had always been full of estate and tax planning, and the volume was increasing. So it was natural to consider the program as a way to demonstrate to third parties that our office practiced estate planning at a high level. Certification distinguishes us and demonstrates where our legal strengths are. I wonder to this day why the Bar and our courts have not established a required credentialing process for our admission to practice before our courts.
What do you see as the benefits of achieving this goal?
Clearly, referrals from other lawyers have always been a benefit in growing our practice. And, for whatever reason, the specialization designation seems to be more important to CPAs, brokers, investment advisors, CLUs, bankers, trust officers, etc. than to the general public. It seems that the designation kicked my image up a notch with these other professionals, and enhanced referrals from them.
What activities/volunteer groups are you involved in?
Since I am in my 51st year of practicing law, my volunteer and community work has been reduced to serving on the boards of three private foundations, church work, and continuing to play my trumpet. A regret that I have is that I have not been active in Bar matters. But a real joy of mine has been the opportunity to serve over 30 community charitable nonprofit organizations – among those were hospitals, schools, colleges and universities, community foundations, and many others. My work with these organizations has enriched and broadened my life and taught me much.
How has estate planning and probate law changed since you first became certified?
The major estate planning change, for me, has been in estate (or transfer) taxation. In 1990 the federal estate tax exemption was $600,000, and we had a North Carolina inheritance tax as well as federal and state gift taxes. With the repeal of the North Carolina inheritance and gift tax, a federal exemption level now at $11.58 million, and the use of two exemptions being easy to achieve, there has been a sea change in transfer tax planning for estate planning professionals. In 1990, transfer tax planning constituted about 75% of my practice. Now it is about 10%.
What are your hobbies?
My passion is music. Since the fifth grade I have been a trumpet player. I was third chair in the all state band my senior year of high school. I received a music scholarship to Davidson, but soon discovered that I would probably be more financially rewarded tooting my horn in law as opposed to music. I have played with the Durham Symphony, the Triangle Brass Band, the Durham Medical Orchestra, the Durham Community Concert Band, numerous brass ensembles, and have had many solo gigs at weddings, funerals, and especially at church on special Sundays. I have had the honor to play at many client funerals and have found that a meaningful way to say goodbye.
What is most challenging about your work?
Without question the most challenging part is dealing with the “people” issues. The legal and tax part is simple and easy compared to addressing the people issues. I have always challenged clients to be proactive as opposed to being reactive in their planning; to shed themselves of “knee jerk” planning and really drill down to the core people issues facing them. It is hard for most of us to concentrate meaningfully on unpleasant topics like death, disability, conflict, etc. as complacency, procrastination, denial, and a propensity to be overly subjective often gets in the way. But with proper planning we can help clients achieve come semblance of objectivity, a sense of serenity, and peace of mind.
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