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Firm Overview

Everyone understands that estate planning should ensure that a person's wishes are respected in the event of incapacity or death. First and foremost, however, a plan should consider the financial well-being of the client and his or her family during life.

Our clients know that we plan for their future. We help them to avoid lengthy and expensive probate and conservatorship proceedings in the courts. We work to save assets for children and grandchildren, close friends, charities, and to provide for beloved pets.

Understanding your desires and goals is the first step in creating a good estate plan. Part of our job is to help you define what those goals are. Then, we work to build a legal structure that will fulfill them and withstand challenges. We can assist you in writing a will or creating a trust to support spouses, partners and children, to build educational opportunities or to care for those with disabilities. When guardianships or conservatorships are needed, we work to make the process as smooth and anxiety-free as possible. Every client is special and you deserve the best that we can give.

First, we help each client identify assets, including real estate, business and personal property. We consider what your future financial needs will be. We plan for liabilities, pensions, savings plans, and businesses. We then work to build an estate plan that safeguards assets, provides benefits to the client during his or her lifetime, and meets future family needs.

I offer every client a free, confidential session in my office to answer questions and talk over possible solutions. I provide written estimates of my fees for each specific job. People know what they are getting; they see that my work can save them money and trouble in the end.

Example cases

Most of my clients have a home, some savings, a pension and IRAs - some own their own business. The challenge is to find the best use of each kind of asset that they have to achieve their goals. These goals could be anything from providing educational opportunities to grandchildren to caring for disabled family members to making sure that value in homes or land is protected in the event of long term illness.

The plan also has to fit the people and circumstances. A simple plan that protects children's interests as well as spouses can be a much better choice than a pre-made trust package without that discretion. A plan that promises tax breaks but requires administration by a trust company or expects an elderly person to make complex financial decisions is probably not a good plan. Younger families have different issues: they need to be sure that funds are not tied up for a lengthy period if a husband or wife dies at a young age.

Often, it is not about money. One client whose only asset was a small, remote piece of land wanted to divide it between nine children. Most attorneys would automatically think this was a bad idea. I spent time talking to her and to her children. This land had been in the family for generations and although each subdivided parcel would have very little value, it was important to the whole extended family that they be able to share that space for picnics and family vacations. It was part of their history. They did not want to sell it for the maximum value. They wanted to use it and if it was divided even more on down the line, that was fine with them. My job then became to choose the system that would keep the land in the family and would not make it subject to a creditor's claim if one of them got into financial trouble.

Clients on the other end of the economic spectrum had a major art collection. They had a trust that split into two trusts when the husband passed away. I helped find experts to appraise the work, then worked with the wife to put high-appreciating art in one trust, providing greater income to her when sold and turned into productive investments but retaining principal for children and grandchildren. The wife also retained close control over less valuable artworks in the other trust that could be sold, gifted, or donated to museums to provide the greatest tax advantage for her in coming years. I helped to arrange immediate donations to museums that eased the tax burden. I also resolved a pension dispute and helped her deal with Social Security - there was no probate, thanks to almost all the property being in trust. My goal was to do whatever was needed to make this time less difficult for her.

Family dynamics can be quite complex. My hope is always to resolve family differences before they become public and lawsuits are filed or relatives stop speaking to each other. Taking on the responsibilities of guardianship for an incapacitated family member can sometimes be even harder on a family than dealing with death. Conflicts over control of both money and people can turn ugly. It is my job to represent the interests of my client, not to convince everyone to make nice, but I am there as the voice of reason and expedience. It sometimes helps to point out that if heirs or relatives continue to argue, the only persons likely to benefit are their lawyers.

Main Office

Kate Fitz Gibbon Law Office
215 W San Francisco St.
Suite 202C
Santa Fe  NM  87501

Phone
  • (505) 412-2209
Fax
  • (505) 247-7777

Fees

Free Initial Consultation?

I do offer a free, confidential consultation. We can talk briefly on the phone, but I prefer meet the client in person to get to know them. Generally, we talk for about an hour.

Services Offered For Fixed Fees?

I have fixed fees for quite a lot of services. I have a page on my website that outlines my fixed fee system. In the case of pre-packaged wills or trusts, the issue is not just whether the text of the document is correct. The question is: does this will or trust arrangement really serve all the person's needs? Is it the right fit or does it need a tweak?

I like to know how a potential client found me; therefore it makes sense to offer a reduced fee for any needed adjustments to Nolo clients who come to me through this service.

Hourly Rates

$175.

Office Information

Office Hours

Monday through Friday
9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Emergency After Hours

No

Languages Spoken

French, Persian, and some Spanish.

How did your firm decide on the primary area of practice(s)?

Estate planning, wills, and trusts was a natural choice for me. I enjoy working with people and at the same time, I am not intimidated by challenge and complexity. What I do starts and ends with the needs and desires of individual clients. I have to know the law - whether it is tax law or the probate code or the laws governing trusts or guardianships - each one of those systems of laws affects only a small part of a person's life. Life is far more complex and has many more variables than the law. My job is to make all these different systems work together in harmony for real people.

I feel lucky and privileged to work in this field of law. Clients almost always come to me because they want to do good things, not because they've been caught doing something bad. The people I work with want to pass homes and land to children, fund education for grandkids, care for aging parents and disabled relatives, support charities, churches, museums and more. They deserve the best I can give.

What is your firm's point of view regarding clients educating themselves on legal issues?

I like it when clients come in already knowing that there is a whole range of options out there for them. We start from that vantage point and choose a solution that will help them the most. One of the hardest tasks is to step outside everyday life and really think though all the things that might happen in the future. Every plan involves balancing immediate goals and long term ones and thinking through the inherent risks of a changing world.

A fully informed client is a happy client. I am not into cookie-cutter solutions. The basic forms that non-lawyers can purchase are just that, good for the basics. I can help by fine-tuning and making sure that the client is really getting what he or she needs.

Is your firm willing to review documents prepared by clients?

I am glad to review documents prepared by clients from templates or otherwise. I respect their choice to go forward on their own. If I can help them to avoid pitfalls and to make educated, informed decisions, then I have done my job as a legal adviser.

Is your firm willing to coach clients who want to represent themselves?

It depends. I have helped a number of clients who used New Mexico's admirable system of informal probate. There were points in the process where I stepped in and other tasks that they handled themselves. I wrote or reviewed all their documents and I was there to meet with them personally when they had any questions. I am happy to work for a reduced fee in that situation.

I actually suggest that clients do an informal probate whenever it is possible. Being a fiduciary is a big responsibility, but with a small estate it is usually something that a thoughtful, conscientious person can do on their own.

In a complicated situation where a client might harm their own interest by trying to represent themselves, I would counsel them not to take that risk. If they were not comfortable with me, I would suggest another lawyer for backup. So far, that hasn't happened.

Kate Fitz Gibbon

I had been working in the field of art and cultural heritage with several nonprofits for almost a decade before opening my solo practice. I wanted to serve individuals as well as organizations.

I have some very wealthy clients who wish to donate art collections as part of their estate planning, but I create equally personalized plans to help low-income families pass assets like family land that has been held for generations on to their grandchildren. One of the best choices I made was to work with the New Mexico Bar's Elder Law referral service: working with these pro bono clients introduced me to all kinds of New Mexico families. This volunteer work is still an important part of my practice.

I have always been a detail person and I am not happy unless I thoroughly know a field. Estate planning is an exciting area because the field has amazing depth. Although many attorneys write wills on the side, you have to work constantly to keep up with the law to do this job well. I am going to be learning forever, but I love what I do and I get a lot of satisfaction from putting together plans that really work for people.

Practicing law was my second career: a smooth transition from my work with nonprofits and collections management and museums. I was appointed to the Cultural Property Advisory Committee to the President in Washington, DC by President Bill Clinton and I continued to serve on the committee under President George W. Bush. Starting in 2003, I worked as education director for a nonprofit in the art law field and I now am an active board member of two nonprofits: a cultural policy think-tank and the largest U.S. professional organization of ethnographic art dealers. I have also written seven books covering both art and the law.

I have worked in countries such as former Soviet states where basic human rights and protections don't exist. I have lived in other countries where survival from day to day is uncertain, where people don't know where their next meal is coming from, and where almost half the children die before the age of five. Yet these people worked hard every day. They built strong families; they had faith and hope in the future. These life experiences not only taught me to appreciate the relative security and material comfort of life in the U.S., I also learned to respect people from every walk of life and to look beyond surface appearances for character and integrity.

Most of my clients have raised families. So have I. My husband and I have been married about twenty-five years - and he still has a sense of humor. We have two daughters in college who are our greatest joy. Our family home is now also home for my mother, a capable and insightful person from whom I learn every day. As a family, we have shared caring for a person with a failing mind, worked with hospice during a last illness, and experienced all the complications of death and grieving. We have dealt with incapacity and mental illness in close family members. These are experiences that parallel what many of my clients are going though today.

I don't just like what I do, I love it. I like to work and am detail-minded. I have a lot of energy and most important, I am basically a happy person.

Personal interests:

Reading, writing, history, running, hiking, spinning, dogs, cats, birds, art, archaeology, anthropology, vintage photography, exotic recipes, pre-war jazz, Motown, opera, and everything to do with Central Asia.

License
  • Bar Number: 132727
    New Mexico , 2009
Education
  • University of New Mexico School of Law
    J.D. , 2008
    Albuquerque, NM
    Wills and Trusts, Art Law, Intellectual Property Law, Native American Law.

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