Sometimes it's what's not said that means the most
Funny things happen in the practice of law. This column will share some of them from over 30 years of my practice with clients all over the world.
On a cold winter day in Chicago, I met my client in the lobby of one of the city's prominent banks. We were on our way to the trust department for an 11:00 a.m. meeting.
My client's husband had died after a long illness. Our mission at the bank was to meet with her husband's young trust officer to discuss the administration of her husband's approximately $1 million estate. Her husband had everything in his name, so probate was necessary. The bank had been named as executor. There was a will and all of his property passed to his two minor children with my client as guardian.
The trust officer told us that the value of the estate's assets was below the bank's minimum, but it would administer the estate as a courtesy because most of the assets were held in accounts at the bank. He made clear to us the bank would, of course, charge the fee reflected in its latest full fee schedule.
It was almost 12:30 p.m. and we had just about finished what had not been an overly friendly meeting.
The trust officer looked at his watch and noted it was lunch time. He said, “I would love to take you to the bank's dining room for lunch, but not only did we miss the bank's minimum asset requirement for estate administration, we also didn't meet its minimum qualifications for being guests of the bank in its dining room.”
My client was wearing over $100,000 worth of jewelry. She wore an attractive designer suit with a matching silk scarf and a mink coat trimmed in sable. Prominently displayed was a gold and diamond Patek Philippe watch. Her wedding ring was a perfect 10 carat diamond set in platinum, surrounded by rubies.
Unknown to the trust officer, my client had an investment advisory account at a different bank with a current balance of over $50 million in blue-chip stocks and AAA rated bonds. I guess the trust officer could have mistaken the platinum wedding ring for silver but it certainly didn't come from a Cracker Jack box. How he missed her other jewelry and her clothing I don't know, but those items, too, didn't come from a discount store.
Even more amazing was the sheer rudeness of the withheld lunch invitation and the emphasis that there would be no fee deduction from the bank's schedule. We had requested neither.
You could see the smile disappear from my client's face. She told the trust officer she had an engagement with me at “a soup kitchen” so she couldn't have accepted a lunch offer if made anyway.
She pointed out to the trust officer her ability under her husband's will to remove the bank as the executor. She asked me in front of the trust officer if we could return to my office immediately. Her car and driver were waiting downstairs.
While I don't know specifically what the bank lunch would have cost, it's hard to imagine the cost exceeding $52 million dollars.
I learned a lot that day. The bank never knew. She removed the bank as executor and brought everything to her bank where the $52 million account existed.
A disappointed client may never complain, but also may never come back. As a senior trust officer at a New York bank told me, banks worry most not about clients who complain, but about those who do not. Perhaps we should send this first column to “Ripley's Believe it or Not.”
Roy M. Adams is currently a solo practitioner working as a special advisor to high-net-worth families throughout the world, bank trust departments and trust companies in the United States and law firms practicing in the trusts-and-estates field