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I recently had an opportunity to talk with Gregory Peacock, a board certified specialist practicing with Ward and Smith in New Bern, Greenville, and Raleigh. Greg received his undergraduate degree in business administration from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and worked as a trust officer for three years before attending the Wake Forest University School of Law. Following his law school graduation, Greg joined Ward and Smith, focusing on estate planning, probate, and trust administration. Greg became a board certified specialist in estate planning and probate law in 2001 and earned board certification in elder law (with both the North Carolina State Bar and the National Elder Law Foundation) in 2010.

Greg was recently honored as a future leader in estate planning law through the Southeast Fellows Institute of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel. Greg received this nomination based on demonstrating the highest level of integrity, commitment to the profession, competence, and experience. He is well regarded by his colleagues as being respectful, easy to work with, and always keeping his client’s end goal in mind. His commitment to understanding both estate planning and elder law issues at the highest level is well noted by his colleagues and appreciated by his clients.

Following are some of his comments about his certifications and the impact they have had on his career.

Q: What was your path to board certification in these two practice areas?

When I was working as a trust officer at First Citizen’s Bank, I dealt with financial issues, but also began learning about the legal issues involved with trust administration. I realized that I enjoyed the legal issues more than the financial aspects of the position. That led me to law school, and even though I considered other types of legal work, my background was a great foundation for my work in estate planning law at Ward and Smith. Over time, we realized that there was a need in Eastern North Carolina for legal assistance in elder law as well. That seemed like a natural fit for my practice, so I began to handle those matters, adding the elder law certification when I was eligible.

Q: How is certification important in your practice areas?

Very few lawyers practice elder law and the need for qualified counsel can be critical. Frequently the clients have fear and insecurity about the future as they are facing important medical, financial, or housing issues. They can be gratified to hear that there are legal avenues that they can take as they make decisions that will protect their families and their assets. Practicing elder law can be very rewarding.

Q: Who are your best referral sources?

I get referrals from certified public accountants, financial advisors, and existing clients. I also have referrals from both local attorneys who do not handle trust and estate work as well as attorneys from other locations who are looking specifically for the certification. When I am asked to help someone find legal help, I know if the lawyer is certified that I have an added level of confidence in making that referral.

Q: Are there any hot topics in your specialty areas right now?

Yes, as we adjust to a new administration, there are tax law changes that are impacting our clients and additional, pending changes that could have tremendous impact by the end of the year. We have been busy working with clients to educate them on options to use their estate and gift tax exemptions before they are lowered.

We have also seen the impact of the booming North Carolina economy on our clients over the past few years. We are now assisting clients who operate family businesses as they receive offers from large companies or out of state investors. This has brought significant wealth and liquid assets to our state and is changing the landscape around us.

Q: How has your work in estate planning or elder law been rewarding over the years?

One of the most enjoyable parts of my job has been working with multiple generations of my client families over time and truly getting to know them, their children, and their grandchildren.

Q: What is one of your biggest success stories related to your estate planning or elder law practice?

With estate planning, the “fruits of our labor” typically are not quantifiable until the death of a client. Though that is a sad time for families, it also is the time that families often recognize and appreciate the tax savings that have resulted from our estate planning techniques. I’m often surprised myself when I calculate what the tax would have been if we have not been proactive with planning during the client’s lifetime.

Q: How do you like to spend your free time?

My most favorite days are days on the boat at Cape Lookout or any other island or sandbar with family and friends. I also run quite a bit and regularly exercise with a group called F3, which stands for Fitness, Fellowship, and Faith.

Q: What would you say to encourage other lawyers to pursue board certification?

If you want to be one of the lawyers at the top of your area of practice, it’s a no-brainer. First, it is rewarding initially to pass the test and know that you are eminent in your field. Second, it definitely results in referrals. Third, the additional CLE, while sometimes frustrating, “forces” additional education, which truly is necessary to be a trusted specialist.