Preserve and Protect
David M. Frees III and Douglas L. Kaune of Unruh Turner Burke & Frees P.C. offer clients the tools they need to preserve their wealth and protect their heirs, now and into the future
by Bill Donahue

People spend their entire lives building profitable businesses, nurturing their careers and cultivating wealth for themselves and their families. Yet this wealth can be incredibly fragile, vulnerable to federal and state taxation, as well as the threats of lawsuits, divorces and the rising costs of long-term nursing care.

David M. Frees III and Douglas L. Kaune, two attorneys and partners with the law firm of Unruh Turner Burke & Frees P.C., can help make sure those vulnerabilities are lessened significantly, if not erased outright. With more than 40 years of combined experience in estate planning, estate administration and elder law, Frees and Kaune have helped thousands of Pennsylvania residents to plan and to avoid the pitfalls that could erode the fortunes they have spent their lives putting in place.

Surprisingly, many people—even highly successful business owners and executives—have not taken the time to meet with a qualified attorney who can craft an asset-protection plan that will work according to the person’s specific wishes. At the same time, even those who have done some planning on their own are at risk of endangering a significant portion of their wealth—even all of it—because of a small mistake or oversight they made in the planning process. That’s where the effective planning of Frees and Kaune comes in.

“We’ve been doing this for so long with our affluent clients in this area that we have discovered things they share in common and things they want but don’t even know they can have, like protecting their children’s inheritance from divorce,” says Frees, co-chairman of the firm’s Trusts, Estates and Wealth Preservation section. “What we do is very technical, and it involves the intersection of real estate law, tax law, Medicaid law, estates and trusts, and the client needs harmonious results. … We’re constantly developing tools to simplify the process and focus on making it easy for our clients.”

Unruh Turner Burke & Frees’ proprietary Enhanced Estate Planning™ offers parents and grandparents the opportunity to protect assets from claims, carefully and strategically plan their estates, educate the next generation and provide ongoing advice and information to their heirs through technology and messages they create now to be delivered at an appropriate time in the future. For clients who are just beginning the process, the firm has created, where interested parties can learn more about putting a proper plan in place to protect their wealth, their lifestyles and their heirs.

Helping people prepare for future unforeseen events—“expecting the unexpected,” as it were—is what Frees and Kaune do best. This notion also comes into play in regard to elder law, which pertains to a variety of issues relating to senior citizens, including the protection of assets from the financial burden of long-term nursing care.

“The population is aging, and we have seen a steady increase in long-term nursing care costs,” says Kaune, co-chair of the firm’s Elder Law Solutions® section, who has been a practicing elder law and trusts attorney since 1995. “Those two things coming together can result in people losing a significant portion of their wealth. We’re using all the tools we have available, in line with changes in elder law, to help clients protect the assets they have built over the course of their lives from being eroded by spending on long-term care.”

Unfortunately, most families react only when a crisis arises, meaning the day when Mom or Dad must make a quick transition to a nursing home. This lack of planning can result in hasty decision making in regard to how this care is funded, thereby siphoning tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars from a family’s asset base.

“Clients don’t always think to come to us in advance, but there are strategies we can use even in crisis situations,” Kaune says. “A lot of times, when people get into a crisis, they don’t ask questions, and that can have big implications. It’s very much a case-by-case basis, but there are great resources available, and we offer [prospective clients] a place where they can go for well-vetted answers.”

One of those resources is The website provides access to complimentary videos, free reports and checklists that can serve a useful guide for making gifts, setting up trusts and establishing medical contracts with family members to legally and ethically protect assets.

Although every client’s situation is different, attorneys Frees and Kaune pose a number of questions that everyone should consider when creating an estate plan designed to protect assets.

 * “What should estate planning cost?”
The attorneys of Unruh Turner Burke & Frees have worked hard to understand what is important to clients, and this includes providing a clear picture of what an asset-protection plan might cost. “People want to know the costs up front,” Frees says. “If people are serious and come in to meet with us, we will give them options that work for them and a flat fee for each of them. When they know what the cost might be, people tend to feel empowered.”

* “Should I opt for a will or a trust?”
“The question we like to ask is, ‘What do you want to achieve?’” says Frees. There are certain trusts, for example, that, when structured properly, enable a parent to give an asset to an heir, and that asset will remain protected and in the heir’s control even if the heir is involved in a divorce or a lawsuit.

* “How do I know if my will or trust has been properly structured?”
“Clients often come to us with prepared documents from years ago—a trust created under a will, an IRA, a 401(k)—so we go through and see how those assets are structured and how the beneficiaries are designated,” says Frees. “It’s vital to make sure those documents work together, because one might trump the other, and we’ve built that into our process to make sure that [cooperation] happens.”

* “What can I do to protect my assets from the rising costs of nursing care? Even in times of crisis, are there techniques that can be used to protect my assets?”
Advanced planning can prevent families from having to make decisions in haste. Even in crisis situations, however, people have options, including certain carefully structured gifts and trusts. In the same breath, making a mistake that could disqualify a person from long-term care assistance under the Medicare law is easier than one might expect, according to Kaune. “There are a lot of pitfalls to fall into, and there are tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars at risk,” he says. “They need someone on their team advising them who has long-term experience.”

Whether a family is in need of assistance with estate planning and administration, elder law or a related matter, attorneys Frees and Kaune stand ready to fulfill—and, in many ways, anticipate—those needs.

“In building this practice, we would sometimes hear from clients, ‘I never heard from my [former] trusts and estates lawyer.’ That’s not us,” Frees says. “We make a point of being a continual resource. We have blogs on our website, where we have countless tools and checklists that could be very helpful for anyone who might need them, not just for our clients. We also publish a newsletter four or five times a year, and each season we’ll provide something that’s completely unrelated to the work we do—maybe a cocktail recipe—and people love that. It’s funny, because someone is less likely to say, ‘Thanks for the idea that saved me $2 million.’ Instead they say, ‘Thanks for the Manhattan recipe.’

“Everybody says they are client focused, but we’re constantly asking clients about what’s important to them,” he continues. “More importantly, we’re continually responding to what they tell us.”

Unruh Turner Burke & Frees P.C. ||

Three Offices in Chester County
17 W. Gay Street
West Chester, PA 19381

120 Gay Street
Phoenixville, PA 19460

43 Leopard Road
Building II, Suite 103
Paoli, PA 19301

Photograph by Jody Robinson