Who We Are

VM Gokea Law – The Inheritance Lawyer ™

A picture of Varvara and her family

I started my legal career in corporate America at the AT&T patent litigation department, working as an attorney specializing in intellectual property, but never felt that my work made a difference in people’s lives. I went to law school to better understand my new country and the American way of life and to help other people like me. When my mother and brother needed immigration assistance, they received conflicting advice. Thus, I decided to immerse myself in studying immigration law and open my own practice to representing people like their families and me.

After that, when a dear friend lost her battle with cancer, I was shocked to discover that the documents created by an attorney were not protecting her kids or her wishes because the guardianship nominations made in the will, needed the will to be approved by a court and a judge. I realized that regular estate planning practices were not providing a service, but just some forms and people weren’t being served in the way I thought they should be.

I swore I would never let this happen to another family again if I could help it.

In my friend’s case, a single mother who had passed away due to cancer and left behind two minor children ages 13 & 14, some documents were created by an attorney. Still, there were no temporary guardians for her minor children, and the permanent guardians nominated in her Will were non-American citizens living outside the United States. Her Will went through the court process while her kids were in the care of strangers, the New Jersey social services.

The children’s terrifying experience could have been avoided if the attorney generating my friend’s Will had created documents naming temporary guardians for the children here in the U.S. until her relatives arrived overseas to take over the kids.

Furthermore, the non-American guardians had to hire an attorney and go to court while having a very hard time convincing the judge they would raise the kids in the USA. Otherwise, the judge would not grant guardianship of the children to them.

It was a devastating experience for the kids and an expensive undertaking for the guardians. As it turned out, the guardians had to spend more than $25,000 on attorney fees to take guardianship of my friend’s kids.

I thought this was malpractice, but I discovered that this was common practice for the estate planning attorney not being familiar with non-American guardianship.

A picture of Varvara's son enjoying watching baseball when he was young
Varvara M. Gokea - The Inheritance Lawyer in Water Mill, NY Office

As a single parent, my friend went to see an attorney to do her estate planning before she became ill. Like most estate planning attorneys, her attorney was charging hourly rates, and she was charged for each phone call for each question. When my friend became ill, she didn’t call the attorney to discuss her illness and review her estate plan being worried about receiving more bills in the mail. She thought her estate plan was going to protect her kids and her assets. At no time did her attorney contact her to make sure the family circumstances were unchanged or to review her plan in 10 years.

Also, a Revocable Living Trust paperwork was prepared for her, but no one gave her any guidance or instructions to fund the trust (re-title the assets in the name of the trust), and left the actual work of changing the title to my friend. As a result, the Trust transfers were never completed, and the newly acquired assets were not owned in the name of the Trust.

So even though she spent thousands of dollars to create a plan to protect her kids and her assets, at the time of her death, when her kids needed the most protection, the plan intended to avoid court proceedings did not work. This was what she spent thousands of dollars to avoid. You’d think this was malpractice, but sadly this is common practice.

Her attorney did not keep in touch with her and did not know about her illness; he did not make certain the Trust was funded; he did not plan for temporary guardians until the permanent guardians nominated in the Will arrived from overseas; did not accomplish the purpose of the estate plan to protect the kids and their wellbeing as intended. Her attorney created just some forms that were good enough ten years before her death.

With my friend’s experience in mind, I immersed myself in studying Estate Planning and decided to represent my clients differently.

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