Cornerstone Law Center, Inc.

Thousand Oaks Estate Planning and Business Law Attorney

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Firm Overview

Welcome to Cornerstone Law Center

At Cornerstone our focus is on providing innovative and personal service to our clients with both their estate planning and business services.

With our estate services we assist you with both the legal and personal advice that enhances your ability to transfer wealth to future generations, or charities, in a constructive manner that avoids unnecessary costs, taxes (property, gift, income or estate) and family strife. We help you make effective plans for life events including gifting, business transfers, and health care goals. We are experienced in all facets of estate work. Our services range from the design of your estate plan, to the implementation of that plan, review and maintenance, and ultimately the administration of your estate. Cornerstone uses a wide variety of tools, including trusts, wills, advance health care directives, powers of attorney, charitable trusts, insurance trusts, grantor trusts, estate freezing techniques, gifting and discounting to accomplish your goals.

Our business services can assist you in structuring your business from its creation; contracts, risk management, entity maintenance, general consultation, and transfers, buy-sell agreements, gifting, buy-out or sale. Because your business is a complex undertaking we work closely with you and your accounting, tax and financial advisors to avoid unintended consequences and to let you focus on managing your business.

Cornerstone is centrally located on the border of Westlake Village and Thousand Oaks (near Ventura and Los Angeles Counties), across the street from the Thousand Oaks Post Office. Many of our clients are from the Conejo Valley; Agoura, Agoura Hills, Thousand Oaks, Westlake Village, and Newbury Park; along with Moorpark, Simi Valley, Camarillo, San Fernando Valley, Oxnard and Ventura.

Cornerstone Law Center, Inc. was established in 2011. It is the successor firm to Entrust Legal, LLP.
Example cases
Estate Planning:

1. When a second parent dies, it is a traumatic event for the remaining family. Worse yet the person who normally keeps disagreements in check is often the one who is no longer there.

I was the attorney for a trust administration with several adult beneficiaries who came to physical blows trying to divide the personal property. I had not drafted the Trust document but it was legally adequate if not inspired in its drafting. Between the children, their spouses and their children, the potential for the situation to explode into litigation and permanent estrangement was high. The real key to managing the administration was not how to divide the bank account or whether to sell the house; it was how to handle the pictures and the china.

I took all of the family pictures (several albums worth) and had them digitally scanned at high resolution. Every family was able to have the entire picture collection and could reproduce the physical pictures whenever they wished. Dividing the original albums became much simpler.

With regards to the one complete set of china and flatware that had been used for family gatherings, I purchased sturdy travel containers and the family agreed that whoever was going to host the next family gathering would take them from most recent event - tying the responsibility of hosting with the reward of using the heirloom china.

Once the tensions over the pictures and china had been relieved, the beneficiaries drew cards (2,3,4 etc.) to determine the order in which the rest of the disputed items would be selected. With the choices going from high to low and then from low to high until I ran out of items that were contested. While not everyone was overjoyed by the outcome, they were talking, planning the next family get-together and no one wound up in court.

2. A childless client wanted to give his considerable estate to charity. However, he had very specific scholarships he wanted to endow and the University would not guarantee they would use the funds the way he wanted the scholarship to be structured. Frustrated he came to me to figure out a way to accomplish his goal.

I explored his alternatives, re-interviewing the University's department in charge of scholarships and donations, looking at existing supporting organizations, local community funds and donor advised funds. I presented the client with my results and explained he had other options such as setting up a private foundation to manage the scholarships, independent of the university. After reviewing his options, he chose to create and fund the foundation which bore his name. With a relatively minor gift, I structured the foundation and applied for both its tax exempt status and for approval of the scholarship program my client wanted to establish. I received approval on both items.
I set up the board of the foundation with the client, his friends and advisers, whom it was expected would continue the program if my client passed away. For the past several years the foundation has been making
Main Office

Main Office
3390 Auto Mall Drive
Westlake Village  CA  91362

Phone
  • (888) 686-7526
Fax

Fees

Free Initial Consultation?

I offer a free initial consultation. Consultations can generally last 30 minutes to an hour.

Services Offered For Fixed Fees?

Complete Estate Plan (Revocable Living Trust, Will(s), Durable Power(s) of Attorney, Advance Health Care Directive(s), Certification of Trust, Funding Instructions, Assignment of Personal Property, 1 California residential Deed and ancillary documents) $2,495. (Mention Nolo and receive the Complete Estate Plan at $1,995) This planning includes such items as special needs planning or beneficiary trusts; complex distribution schemes and specific gifts. Charitable Foundation: (Includes consultation, entity formation and IRS filings) $8,000

Hourly Rates

* Attorney $375 * Staff $125

Office Information

Office Hours

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

Emergency After Hours

No

Estate Planning
We provided estate planning from foundational documents such as trusts and powers of attorney to strategic generational planning. We help clients manage charitable giving and business transitions.
We primarily serve clients in the Conejo Valley area of Southern California (Agoura, Agoura Hills, Westlake Village, Thousand Oaks, Newbury Park, Moorpark, Simi Valley, Camarillo) and surrounding communities in Ventura and Los Angeles Counties.

We help you plan your estate, whether your concerns are about protecting your children's inheritance, health care, or financial. We assist in planning the transfer of businesses to the next generation or to provide for your family.

We can help you protect your assets, plan to reduce or minimize taxes, and avoid family conflict. Our process will provide you with peace of mind about both your life and those that will follow you.

Michael E. Garner is a Certified Specialist in Estate Planning, Trust and Probate Law. His expertise can assist you in planning for children with special needs, tax concerns, charitable planning and gifting.

We want you to fully enjoy your life and then leave a legacy to future generations in a manner that avoids unnecessary costs, taxes and family strife.
Business
We assist business owners from the planning stages, through start-up, maturity and transfers. We have a team that can provide you both legal assistance as well as business services through the CFO level.
We help business owners create, manage and transfer their businesses.

We assist you in the planning and creation of your business. Our services range far beyond just creating a corporation or limited liability company. We can help you set up the proper framework for a successful enterprise.

For growing business we offer assistance in contracts, negotiations, risk management, buy-sell agreements, partnership agreements, corporate record management and general consultation. We can also guide you through the process of attracting investors or lenders to help you grow faster and stronger.

For mature businesses Cornerstone helps in the planned and unanticipated transfer of your business. Whether you are looking to plan for the transfer of your business to the next generations or looking to retire we can help you prepare your business and yourself the change.

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

I came to the practice of law somewhat later in life than many attorneys. I was an operation officer before I became an attorney and had a bit of life and business experience behind me when I decided to practice law. Before going to law school I interviewed several attorneys who, for the most part, seemed fairly miserable in their jobs. Their stories were similar. They went to law school, graduated, passed the bar and with varying degrees of debt, marital and children status, went to work for the firm that offered them the best deal, doing whatever that was. Then five years later or so, they decided that they really didn't like doing what they were doing, but were trapped. They made very good money and had grown accustomed to their lifestyles. To change areas of legal practice would mean going backward in status, pay and maybe jobs as they learned another field - they felt trapped.

So after I passed the bar, I determined I would not make the same mistake. I tried every type of law I could: litigation and jury trials, bankruptcy, appellate work, governmental law, contract and administrative law, and estate planning. After about three years I found, for a variety of reasons, estate planning and business services offered some unique benefits.

If done correctly I can prevent problems rather than just cleaning up messes. It was one of the very few areas of law where I could be proactive in dealing with issues. Another bonus was that I get to know my clients, sometimes over many years. I can watch and help them grow and be successful. Generally, I get to deal with happy people and make their lives better. What a great job!

What experience or education distinguishes your lawyers from others

A knowledgeable client is a good client. One of the most difficult tasks that an attorney has is taking complex situations and trying to explain the options and potential results in sufficient detail so that a client can make informed decisions. A client who has educated themselves on a particular topic or issue not only makes that translation easier on me, but reduces the time (and often cost) it requires providing legal services.

In both the areas of Estate Planning and Business Law, difficulties often arise. Not because we are limited in our options, but because there is an overwhelming number of options available. A client who has researched the issues has already thought about what it is they want to accomplish. The time spent considering the desired outcome gives the client and myself more peace of mind in determining that the final outcome is one that is the best for the client.

What distinguishes your law firm from others?

I do review documents prepared by clients. However, in my areas of practice, the creation of the document is rarely the most important part of the process. I don't sell documents "by the pound." Much of my value to the client is in understanding their situation, their goals and the limits on what they can do to accomplish these goals. The documents are a memorialization of that process.

For example, if a client shows me a will she created and says, "I have three children and I want my assets to go to them equally," it is not particularly time consuming to look at the will to determine that indeed the will says exactly that - or not. However, that type of review will not reveal that one of her children is disabled or has an addiction to drugs. It will not let me know if she wants her children to attend college, to value work, to own a home or is on a third marriage.

Further, I don't know if she has considered or understands all the options available to her. Does she know that her will causes her estate to go through California's probate system? Did she realize that she didn't have to name one of the children as an executor, that she could name more than one?

Finally, and quite simply, if/when I review a document; I may take on liability if I fail to counsel my client properly. So I review documents, in writing, after consultation with my client and I do charge for the review.

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

I will counsel clients who have questions about legal issues and their options. For example, in the administration of a trust estate I have counseled several clients on different issues that occurred in the administration but did not take on the role of attorney for the estate. The client managed the identification, valuation and distribution of the estate's assets on their own.

I often consult with business owners without undertaking a specific legal task. Many times owners want to explore their options before deciding to provide a new service, purchase property, or enter into an agreement with a vendor.

Michael Garner

I was one of the founding attorneys at American Law Center, Inc., located in Camarillo, California. American Law Center was focused on providing estate planning and business services to the members of local organizations. In 2004, one of the partners made a decision to retire and the firm was sold.

In 2005, I opened an individual practice under my name. I assisted a wealth management firm and their clients with estate planning and business services. In 2009, I formed Entrust Legal, LLP to provide expanded services to my clients. About a year later my partner made a decision to pursue a non-legal career and the firm became Cornerstone Law Center, Inc.

I have created and sold two businesses. I have worked most of my life; as an employee, in management and as an owner. That experience has given me a unique view of how businesses work. I understand that it is not enough just to say "no" to a question asked by a client - you have to be able to find a workable solution.

I have heard the comment that "lawyers are deal killers." Attorneys have two roles with their business clients. Primarily, Attorneys should be looking for a way to make the deal work - and work not just for today but to set up a structure that will work as long as desired. But, if a deal can't work, or its a bad deal for their client the Attorney has a duty to let the client know the issues and potential problems or recommend to the client that they should pass on that project.

I study and expand my knowledge for the benefit of my clients. The State Bar of California has Certified me as a Specialist in Estate Planning, Trust and Probate Law. Because I deal fairly extensively with real estate, I take real estate continuing education and hold a California Broker's License (01319038), not to sell real estate, but to understand how the process really works. Similarly, I keep current on insurance issues and education because they have significant impact on my clients' lives and businesses.
I am an excellent translator. I take complex concepts and jargon, and break them down into understandable terms. I like to take the time to understand my clients and make sure they understand the options available to allow them to achieve their goals.

I tend to think like an entrepreneur when it comes to business matters. I look for ways to say, "yes" to the project. I understand that sometimes businesses need to take risks. It is my job to help mitigate that risk and make sure that the risk is understood, but ultimately the decision on whether to move forward is the client's.

Personal interests:

I'm a voracious reader, though recently I've become addicted to audiobooks - I'm even listening to continuing education programs. I am currently learning Chinese (Mandarin).

I have three terrific dogs that demand walks as soon as I get home.

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