About Me

“What Makes You Different?”

A few years ago, a client came in to see me.  Her husband had died so we wanted to see where we stood regarding the planning that had been done for their estate. When they originally came in to see me, the amount of their assets was exactly twice what each individual alone could shelter from federal estate taxes. However, at his death, because his retirement was a large component of their estate, it was not equally allocated between the two of them. We were able, through various post-mortem planning strategies, to equalize the estate between the two of them.

This occurence convinced me that the model wherein one comes to see one’s estate planning lawyer when planning one’s estate and rarely, if ever, revisits the original planning, ill-serves most clients. Why? Because change is inevitable. Only through a legal counseling-oriented approach, which focuses on the non-tax aspects of the client’s vision for the future, coupled with a commitment to regular, systematic updating, could the client’s expectations about the future come true.

From that time forward, I have sought to create a practice that makes it as easy as possible for a client’s expectations about the future to come true. This means: (1) front-end legal counseling that does not focus on taxes first but rather elicits the non-tax motivations that caused the desire to plan in the first place, so that the available tax laws will be properly marshaled to serve those ends; (2) systematic updating will be part of every plan, either on a non-recurring basis dictated by the client, or on a membership basis, with systematic updates covered by monthly or annual membership fees; and (3) controlled costs for post-mortem estate administration are possible at a client’s death because of steps 1 and 2. When these elements are in place, achieving a client’s hopes and aspirations for the future can be more easily accomplished.

Timothy G. Cleary has practiced Trusts & Estates law in Santa Cruz County for 26  years.  He was also on the faculty of Lincoln Law School of San Jose and is a member of the Santa Cruz County Estate Planning Council.  He has planned and administered estates from the very modest to the very substantial, with care, concern, and compassion.


B. A. Westmont College

M.A. San Francisco State University

M.B.A.  Santa Clara University (Finance)

C.F.P. College for Financial Planning

J. D. Monterey College of Law   (Heisler Moot Court Finalist)