[as originally published on authorhour.com]
No one likes talking about death. No one likes talking about taxes or financial planning. But so many smart, well educated women are blindsided when unexpected curve balls in life throw their personal and financial lives into chaos.
Naz Barouti, the author of Love, Death, and Money, believes you need a comprehensive and easy to follow guide to help you get all your legal affairs in order so that you’re ready for anything that life throws your way.
Naz is well-known in the legal world as an estate planning guru and really, an advocate for women. In 2011, she established Barouti Law Corporation, which now has five offices in Southern California, and she’s also the cohost of a weekly radio program called Protecting Your Family.
In this episode, we talk about the most important things you need to know in order to plan for the unexpected. Whether you’re a young single woman who is just starting out or a mom who is concerned for her family’s wellbeing, this is the episode that will allow you to face the future fully prepared.
Naz Barouti: A lot of people, when they first meet me, I look very white. I look very American, blue eyes, blond hair. But they don’t really know my background and my story unless I tell them my name. I wasn’t born here. I was born in the Middle East. I was born in Iran. My story’s a really interesting one, because I literally am an American dream.
My parents came here when they were really young. I had to basically adapt to a new surrounding, new language, new lifestyle. And my parents did an excellent job of adapting. A lot of people, when they move to America, they try to find cities now where people that speak the same language or have the same background are.
You get comfortable in that bubble.
I’ve always been put into situations where I had to be uncomfortable. Either people spoke a different language, they had a different background, a different religion… I’m very blessed to have grown up like that, because I think it makes me a people person. I can adapt very easily.
I can get along with anyone. You can put me in a room with a hundred people who are from different backgrounds, different religions, even if they speak different languages, and I will find a common ground with them. That’s because of how I was raised. I’m so grateful that I was exposed to different people and religions. I went to Catholic school my whole life, and my family wasn’t even Catholic.
I always wanted to be a lawyer. That was never a question for me but once I started my practice and I started seeing clients that were coming into my office, mostly people that were married, trying to plan for the future, for the day that they weren’t around, making sure their kids or their families were protected.
I was noticing a trend where the men were dominating the conversation or the men were the ones scheduling the appointments or they were giving off some vibes where they weren’t being transparent or forward with how much money they had. Because they didn’t want their spouses, their significant others to figure it out.
I could read the body language, I could see that the women were very uncomfortable.
Or then I had women making appointments, saying, “I’m getting a divorce, I don’t have anything, I don’t where anything is, I don’t know where to start.”
It was really important for me to be an advocate for women, because my parents sacrificed everything to move to America to give me a life where I would have so many freedoms. It wouldn’t be an issue where my husband or a man was controlling my life.
My dad raised me like a son. He always taught me the importance of having your own career, having your own money, being independent.
When I was 17 and ready to go to college, he’s like, “You should go somewhere far away.” That’s kind of unheard of with a Middle Eastern parent, to say just go live your life. When he gave me that freedom, I realized it was so important to teach women how to have financial independence.
Financial security is so important, and a lot of people use money to control.
I was seeing that trend, and I was seeing that women didn’t know how to protect themselves, or they felt intimidated with coming into a lawyer’s office. I really wanted to be like a best friend in this book that I wrote and a lot of people kind of have coined it the legal bible for women, because it’s so easy to use. You can open up any chapter and apply it to your life at the stage that you’re at.
That’s really my story and that’s what motivated me and pushed me to write this book because I had been thinking about doing this for years and I don’t know if it was just – I didn’t want to confront the issues that were at hand or I didn’t have time but I finally was like, okay, you need to just take some time out of your work schedule and focus on this, because so many women can use a book like this.
The Government Isn’t Enough
Charlie Hoehn: What is the government’s plan, and is it really so bad?
Naz Barouti: Imagine a stranger walks into your life and has access to all your bank accounts and says, “Okay, well this checking account is going to this person, this checking account is going to that person.”
You’re like, wait a minute, you don’t even know me, you don’t know my family, you don’t know if I even talk to my family members.
Every state is different. This book is geared for people that are in California, and in California, there is something called interstate laws, which means that if you die without a plan, the state already has a formula in place to divide your assets. There’s a story in the book that’s really interesting, and it’s a true story where a woman came to my office and said, “This gentleman died, he was very wealthy, and I’m his daughter. But he doesn’t know, and he didn’t have a will or trust.”
This man’s worth like 15 million dollars and here comes someone that has never had a relationship with him. This man didn’t have a trust or a will, and according to the laws of California, if you don’t have a trust and you don’t have a will and your spouse has already predeceased you, everything goes to your kids. And so she was a rightful heir.
She got a big chunk of his estate.
It’s really scary to think that someone is going to come in and tell you how your assets you worked so hard to attain are going to be divided. I mean, it’s just not right.
Not only that, because some people are like, “Okay, well I want my spouse or I want my kids to get everything, what’s the big deal?”
Well, the big deal is that, you have to hire an attorney who is going to charge you hourly and then not only the hourly fee but the courts have a statutory fee depending on the value of the estate. They take 4% of the first hundred thousand of the estate and then there’s a formula. On top of the hourly fee, you’re giving a percentage of the estate to the lawyer, then you’re doing all the filing fees for the court and it’s just a nightmare. It’s expensive and its time consuming.
This is not a process that’s going to take like two weeks and it’ll be done.
When you die without a trust or will, they can take anywhere from six months to two years—I’ve seen cases that have been in probate court for five years.
The Risks Ahead
Charlie Hoehn: How bad can things get if you put this off or avoid doing it?
Naz Barouti: I mean, just turn on the news any day of the week and you’ll see that tragic stories don’t discriminate against your age or gender or religion or background. People that have this mentality that I can put this off for 50 years, they really need to change that mentality, because life is not guaranteed.
We’re not Superwomen and Supermen. Accidents can happen to anyone.
It’s really important to know that at any time, something can happen to you. These are documents that need to be prepared in advance. I always give the analogy, not having a plan, a legal plan in place is like driving a motorcycle without a helmet, getting into an accident, hurting, injuring yourself, having the ambulance come, and saying, “Wait, I want to go back and put my helmet on.”
You can’t do that. It’s too late at that point.
We insure our cellphones, we insure our television sets—and this is an insurance policy to make sure that our families are protected, the courts are not getting involved, we’re not putting our families in situations where they have to pay lawyers thousands of dollars and have to go through the court process.
Just take care of it. It’s as simple as that.
I mean, it boggles my mind how much money people spend on ridiculous things. An iPhone now is like a thousand dollars. We spend a thousand dollars on an iPhone. Yes, it has many functions to it but if we really step back and compare a thousand dollars to getting a phone or getting these legal documents. Our priorities are kind of out of whack.
Worth the Cost
Charlie Hoehn: How much do these legal documents cost typically?
Naz Barouti: Well, it just depends on the attorney that you’re working with. Just a cautionary tale for anyone who is listening, you can google online resources and you can drive down any major boulevard and you can see signs that say $99 for a will or online resources that you could just fill out your own stuff—but I don’t recommend that.
I have seen major horror stories with people that did things online.
For example, when you own a home, if you go online and do a trust and you get all the paperwork, you sign it, notarize it. Sometimes these online resources don’t tell you that the title to your home has to be changed and it has to be recorded in the name of your trust. The trust has to own it, so if that title, the deed is not changed, it’s kind of pointless having the trust because it wasn’t transferred properly.
You’ll still go through probate.
It’s just little things like that that, it‘s so advisable to work with an attorney who can tell you these things. How are you going to determine how you divide everything in like a box that’s set to like 320 characters where you just type it in.
Lawyers are trained to see 20 steps ahead of what can go wrong.
It’s not just as simple as “Okay, I want to give everything equally to three people.”
Well, what happens if those three people are gone? We’ve got to have a backup plan. Lawyers are trained to see that, and it can cost anywhere from a thousand to $5,000, it just depends on the value of the estate.
Are you doing any further protections? There are a lot of people that are in careers where they’re at high risk to getting sued. Then, we need to do asset protection plans where we want to protect them from lawsuits, or there are people that want to transfer properties into trust that they can never change—those are irrevocable trusts.
There are so many different tools and options, but a basic trust in my office for example can be anywhere from $800 to $1,200 or $1,500, which is not a lot. I keep my prices low because I want to make sure that the price is not deterring people from getting these documents done.
It’s not like shopping for a tire. You don’t call five different and try to find a place that’s $50 less.
That’s not what we do in estate plan. You got to go to someone that is specialized in this field and another caution that I will like to tell listeners is that you know, a lot of people are like okay, well, I went to this immigration attorney and they did my estate plan, and they charged me $100 less than the estate planning attorney wanted to charge me.
My response to that is, when you have a heart condition, you don’t go to an OBGYN, you go to a special doctor that specializes in heart conditions. You go to a cardiologist. It’s the same thing with lawyers. Make sure the lawyer you’re working with specializes in this area.
Charlie Hoehn: Now, you also talk about the importance of just talking to everyone that’s affected by your estate plan. Do people tend to not do this at all?
Naz Barouti: Yeah, I can’t tell you how many people come into my office, get these documents and then say, “But I don’t want anyone to know. I don’t want to tell anyone.”
I think there’s this like fear—I don’t know if it’s paranoia—how much is in this account and what am I getting and that’s not the way to think about it, I mean, the whole point of getting these documents is that so you can kind of warn people. “Okay, listen, if something happened to me, these documents are safe at home and these are the people that I selected to manage the estate, these are the percentages of how I divided things.”
And I think a lot of people don’t want to hurt feelings for family members. They don’t want to say, “Okay, well I didn’t really trust you to be the manager of my trust after I die,” or “I only left you like 5% and I left your brothers and sisters 10% more.”
They don’t want to face those conversations, but it’s so important to do that, because then when you’re gone, and you leave the mess for everyone else to figure out where they’re like, “I wonder what their reasoning was for naming this person?”
You’re just leaving a lot of chaos behind.
Yes, you planned, but you’re leaving conversations that are not had. It’s crazy what the imagination in the mind can do when you don’t have the right answers, right? We’ll come up with any answer to please ourselves.
Never Too Soon
Charlie Hoehn: Part two of your book, you talk about avoiding the traps, and I want to start with the first trap that you mention, which is college. Talk to me about this chapter.
Naz Barouti: Yeah, you know, it’s really interesting because when you go to college, you don’t even think like I need to protect myself because you’re like, well, I don’t have anything to protect. What’s important about estate planning, it’s not just about when you pass away.
It’s also about when you become incapacitated and making sure that you give power of attorney to whoever you want to make decisions on your behalf, either to step into your shoes financially, to sign checks, or access bank accounts. Or to step into your shoes from a medical point of view as far as do you want to be an organ donor, do you want to be on life support?
These things are very important, and in this chapter I discuss a young college student who unfortunately gets into a car accident and had some money in a bank account and is on life support. Her divorced parents are the ones that have to make the decision of whether to keep her on life support or not. We have a parent who is very religious and wants to leave everything up to God, and then we have another parent that is a little bit more logical and science and wants to not put their child through that.
On top of that, this child had a bank account with quite a bit of money in it, and there’s no beneficiary. It becomes an issue of are you pulling the plug because you want to access this money?
It creates so much conflict between the parents, and the other children have to suffer. Her siblings have to suffer.
If she had simply prepared a healthcare directive and said, “Listen, if I’m in this state, if I’m in this vegetative state, I don’t want to be on life support,” or “I do want to be on life support.”
We don’t have these conversations with 18 year olds because we just say okay, well their parents will make the decision. But you’re an adult at 18, you can vote at 18, you can do a lot of things at 18.
You should be able to make decisions about your medical condition.
I mean, we all know the story about Terry Schiavo. The government got involved, the president got involved in that case at that time. There was a battle between her spouse and her parents to whether to keep her on life support or not. These are very important conversations to have. A lot of parents think that once their kid goes to college that they can still access medical records and they can call the hospital and they can call the bank because they’re paying for the kid’s bills. You can’t.
That person is an adult, and there’s privacy laws. HIPAA laws, which are federal laws, are in place. You can’t access someone’s medical records without popper authority from that person or something that’s signed on paper that allows you access to that person’s medical records.
These are all important conversations to have, and I wish college campuses would bring experts onto college campuses to kind of go over this stuff.
Because I see a lot of these cases. I know it’s hard to believe that something can happen to an 18 year old, but again let’s not forget all the crazy parties on college campuses at sororities. How many times do we hear these tragic stories where someone got drunk and fell off the roof of a house or a balcony or got into a car accident or got hit by a drunk driver?
It’s really important to have this conversation.
Charlie Hoehn: Let’s say I’m a listener in college. What are the first steps for that person—and keep in mind, this is a person who might be like me in college, super embarrassing to admit, but donating plasma to raise money to buy beer. They’re strapped for finances, what do they do?
Naz Barouti: A lot of hospitals have preprinted healthcare directive forms that you can use. They’re not as detailed as one that you would get from an attorney, but you can go to the campus hospital and ask for a healthcare directive form.
You just fill out do you want to be an organ donor, do you want to be on life support, and you just sign it and leave it on file with the hospitals.
If you are strapped for cash, there are solutions to getting a document like that. You don’t have to go to an expensive attorney that charges $600 an hour.
Charlie Hoehn: That’s an amazing super valuable tip and if your local hospital or your campus hospital has that on record what if you get injured out of state?
Naz Barouti: Oh that would still apply because that is a decision that you made. So if your family member or someone could get a hold of that document—that is why I say it’s important that if you are going to have these documents give it to the people that you are putting in charge to make decisions for you.
If something does happen to you, they can take that document and go to wherever you are and do what you’ve asked.
Everyone Needs to Plan
Charlie Hoehn: Yeah and so in your 20s I mean you talk about being not as invisible as you feel. Is this similar advice to the college chapter, or is it extended into something else?
Naz Barouti: It is more for young professionals that are starting to make some money and they think that, “Okay well I am not married and I don’t have kids so I don’t need to plan.” And that’s not the case, because once you start making some money and you have some assets and you have real estate, it is really important to designate who you would want to inherit your assets if you don’t have a spouse or you don’t have young children.
I think it becomes harder for a single woman or a single man who doesn’t have many family members to try to figure out, where do I leave my assets? And those are definitely important conversations to have at a young age. I don’t know if you have seen this trend, but we are seeing more and more young people get cancer and MS. I don’t know if it is just the chemicals that are in our food or we are just not taking better care of ourselves. But we are seeing a lot of young people deal with terminal illnesses.
I especially see it in my practice, because a lot of people come to me when they do get sick. I am seeing a trend of younger people getting sick. It is very similar to the college one but now we have a person who is making money and there is more at stake.
Charlie Hoehn: How much peace of mind do you really get after these legal documents are taken care of?
Naz Barouti: You know, I always joke with my friends and say that I am the grim reaper. Because I always have bad news, but I know it is a tough conversation to have. There is such a sense of relief when you get these documents. Nine out of 10 times, when clients leave my office they hug me after I leave or before they leave.
And it’s just a security. It is just knowing that you could put your head down at night and know if God forbid something happened to you tomorrow the people that you love are not going to have to go to the courts and lawyers and there’s no fighting. Everything is taken care of.
The Dreaded Pre-Nup
Charlie Hoehn: Let’s talk about prenuptial agreements.
Naz Barouti: This is my favorite topic. It’s my favorite topic because everyone gets so uncomfortable talking about it, and I love to push boundaries.
It is a scary topic for some people, but I find prenuptial agreements to be a very beneficial tool. I actually think that they preserve the romance. I love pre-nuptial agreements only because listen, I always ask my clients would you rather talk about finances when you love the person you’re about to get married to? Or do you want to talk about it when emotions are high and you just filed for divorce?
It is a very logical question, and I know that some people get offended when you talk about pre-nuptial agreements because they feel like you don’t trust them but it is not about trust. It is about life gets complicated. People change, feelings change, and you have to prepare in advance for those changes.
Because I hate when people have to pay, believe or not. I hate when people have to pay attorneys so much money just to divide the money that they have.
If we really step back and think about it, it’s crazy.
I am paying someone to decide how to divide money. It is just insane. So when you decide that amongst yourselves it just makes everything so much easier and smoother.
And I think women have a negative connotation when it comes to talking about prenups because they think that it is not to their advantage or it is a document that is restricting their rights and power, but it’s not. You can use the document as a tool to protect yourself, and we are also seeing the trend where women are getting married later in life because they are working, they’re going to school, they are building their own careers.
So now women have more money brought to the table and so it’s very important for women to protect their assets.
Charlie Hoehn: Even though on a rational level it is like, “Okay plan for the worst, expect the best,” sort of thing it still feels like, “Okay this is potentially the outcome. Let us talk about what happens when this fails.” And it is such an emotional thing rather than a clear cut, “Yeah let’s do this.”
Naz Barouti: It is emotional, but if you look at the percentage and the odds of something like that, it’s like 51% of marriages or 50% end up in divorce, maybe higher in California, Los Angeles area. So the odds are not in your favor, unfortunately.
It is better to just have these conversations, and I always tell my clients, if you want to blame me and you want to say I am the one that pushed you to do it, blame me. I don’t care.
I keep count of all the engagements that I break up and then my client comes to me very upset because this person didn’t want to sign it. I’m like, “Well you know listen, it is better that you understand who you are getting into a partnership with now than later.”
And let me tell you, let me be really clear, these pre-nuptial agreements, I am not just an advocate for marriages. I am also an advocate with business partners talking about before they get into a partnership, a business partnership, “Okay let’s talk about first how we’re going to divide the business if it doesn’t work out.”
I’m doing this in any partnership, whether business or romantic.
It is always important to start backward that gets you – because I am a lawyer and I can see and I have seen what happens when you don’t have these conversations of how things are going to get divided. It is a very emotional topic but it not only protects my client. It protects the other side as well.
Charlie Hoehn: This is really to protect both of the people. It is a team conversation. I think in just remembering that can make it easier.
Naz Barouti: Yeah and that’s really important to remember that if it is a one sided document that is going to get thrown out right away. It has to be fair to both sides.
So I think that because we see a lot of celebrities in the news with prenups or not prenups, like recently Alicia Silverstone, she went through a divorce and she has to pay her husband $12,000 a month for the next five years. I always scratch my head thinking you think she had an advisor or lawyer that told her, “Hey maybe you should have this conversation.”
I think a lot of advisors and lawyers do tell these celebrities like, “Hey, get one.” But I think that they think that they are not going to be one of those statistics and then they end up having to spend so much money.
Charlie Hoehn: Yeah, we are starry eyed optimists in the face of love.
Naz Barouti: Yeah, I just want people to know that it is a tool that can protect both sides. Don’t think that it is a one-sided document.
This is the great thing about the book is you could take every story and take the woman and replace it with a man, so I don’t want men to feel alienated. You can buy this book too.
Don’t Forget the Kids
Charlie Hoehn: What do I need to prepare for?
Naz Barouti: Okay, so this conversation always makes my clients cry when I talk about it, because it is the idea of I may not be around one day to see my child grow up. It is really, really, really vital if you are listening and you have kids that you get these documents. Because if something were to happen to you and something were to happen with your wife, you want to make sure that you were proactive and you selected who was going to take care of your children.
A lot of people have the misconception that, “Okay, if I am gone, the Godmother or the grandparents are just going to step in and they are going to be able to take care of my kid.”
It doesn’t work like that.
They would have to go to the courts. They would have to show so many records and documentation of how much money they have, where they live, how long they have known the child, can they take care of this child, and then the court would have to approve it.
It doesn’t matter to the court that that person has been in that child’s life for 17 years, because if the child is under 18 they still need a guardian. So that’s why we do the will, and in the will, we would go over with the client who they would think would be the best guardian, and we list people. Like we will do a list, first this person, second this person, third this person.
I want both of you to make a list of your top five people.
And then see where that list overlaps, because you don’t want to have this conversation the first time in my office. Because it can get really uncomfortable and awkward, because you are assuming that your spouse would want the same person or your partner would want the same person, and sometimes that is not the case.
You need to think about how you want your kid to be raised religiously, what kind of schools you want them to go to. Even down to your political affiliation. I know it is really important to some parents that their kid gets raised in an environment where either that person is conservative or liberal or whatever the case may be.
These are all important conversations to have, even down to the kid’s diet. I mean if you are this organic freak where you don’t put any chemicals in your body and you don’t believe in fast food and you want to raise your kid like that, you probably don’t want to send your kid to Aunt Jan’s house who puts lard in everything, you know what I mean?
So it is really important to have these conversations, especially if you are a single mom and the dad is not around and they have given up their rights. It is even a harder conversation to have, or a single dad, and you really need to take the time to evaluate who would be the best fit for your child.
Working with Naz Barouti
Charlie Hoehn: What is the time investment with someone like yourself in your office figuring all of this stuff out versus what it could be if they avoid it all together?
Naz Barouti: Okay, so when you come to my office I am on you to make these decisions. I don’t put a gun to your head and say, “Okay you have to decide before you leave my office.” But I give you some time, and within three to four weeks we’re done with the documents. We’ve signed them; it’s over.
If you leave my office and you never respond to my emails or phone calls, then that probably means you are never going to come back because you don’t want to make the decision. So within two to four weeks, I have all of these documents done with my clients.
Charlie Hoehn: Amazing and again, not having the documents could equal two to five years of utter chaos for your loved ones. And not just that but having really poor outcomes because of it.
Naz Barouti: Yeah. I mean, there is a story in there where there’s a lesbian couple and they pass away and they have kids. One of the spouse’s sisters who lives right down the street wants to take care of this child but is not as financially equipped as another sister that lives in another state and is very conservative and didn’t agree with her sister’s lifestyle.
The court ends up giving custody to a sister that saw the kids only on holidays.
So you can only imagine the impact that has psychologically on a child where here is the child who’s lost both parents, and then the only person that they have seen as a third mother figure is this aunt who lives down the street—but then now they have to get shipped off to another state with an aunt who is conservative and didn’t even agree with the mothers’ lifestyle.
You don’t want to put your child through that.
The Best Clients
Charlie Hoehn: I want to talk about briefly—what have been some of your favorite success stories. People that you’ve helped, what things have really stood out to you as, “Oh thank God, I am so glad I worked with them.”
Naz Barouti: I mean it is a bittersweet conversation only because the moment that I get happy that my client did these documents is also the time where they’ve passed away. So it makes me sad but then I get relieved knowing that they thought ahead and protected their family. So when their child calls me and says, “Hey, you know my father passed away and it was really sudden but we have these documents and we don’t know where to start.”
It continues the cycle of me helping the family, and that is the important thing with estate planning.
The attorney that you pick it’s not just going to be a one time thing where you meet them for a couple of weeks and then you never see them again. As your life changes, so do these decisions, and you need to be with someone that you trust.
There is a funny story—whenever someone walks into my office, I look relatively young for my age. And they get a little nervous. I just tell them, “Listen, you want an attorney in this case that is going to outlive you, not die before you.”
I am going to be in your life for a very long time.
So it makes me happy that I help them, and then when they pass away I am helping the family still by organizing everything, guiding them through what they need to do, and then that child comes to me and does their estate plan, and then it just continues a cycle of helping the family.
So it makes me feel good knowing that I am helping someone and I am protecting their assets and I am making sure that people who don’t deserve the money that they worked so hard for can’t come in and just swoop it up.
So that’s what keeps me going—knowing that if I wasn’t there it could have been much worse.
A Challenge for Listeners
Charlie Hoehn: Naz, what is the best way for listeners to potentially get in touch with you or to contact you?
Naz Barouti: I have two websites. I have my law firm website, which is baroutilaw.com or they can go to nazbarouti.com.
Charlie Hoehn: Of all the things we talked about, what is the one thing they can do from your book this week that will have a positive impact?
Naz Barouti: I think getting the healthcare directive or the power of attorney. I think those two are actually probably the most important, because it is such a scary topic but it is such an easy thing to fix.
You can either go into your doctor’s office, get a health care directive, say whether you want to be an organ donor, if you don’t want to be on life support, and just sign it. It literally takes less than 20 minutes.
So then that way you don’t leave the burden on your family members to make that tough decision if something were to happen to you.