We are all about celebrating life here in Costa Mesa. But tending to our end-of-life affairs?
It’s hard enough to wrap our heads around the inevitable, much less our wallets. Making financial decisions now – in preparation for old age and beyond – is an issue we’d rather avoid completely, thank you very much.
That’s a common, and very human, response to the topic of wealth after death, says Greg Reese, President & CEO of Costa Mesa-based AmeriEstate Legal Plan. Reese has built his family business around making those tough-but-necessary obligations more streamlined, palatable – and affordable, too – with turnkey, estate-planning products available to anyone.
And he does mean anyone.
While many of us might assume things like living trusts to be the trappings of rock stars and billionaires, Reese says Southern California homeowners are wealthy enough, in assets, to benefit from the protections that estate planning provides.
Family Matters: Siblings Michelle Reese-Johnson and Greg Reese Own and Operate AmeriEstate Legal Plan in Costa Mesa, California.
We settled into the spacious conference room at the AmeriEstate offices – located over near SOCO – with Greg Reese, his sister (VP of Marketing and Sales) Michelle Reese-Johnson, and his parents (and co-founders of the company), Art and Ellie Reese.
They begin by explaining that AmeriEstate is an attorney network of estate-planning and elder-law professionals that strives to keep things turnkey and affordable, while still customizable to your situation. The company offers a wide array of services, like Estate Planning and Trust Administration, Asset Management, Life-Care Benefit Planning, Living Trusts and Wills… basically, legal and financial stewardship.
As helpful as those services can be – for keeping taxes owed, and family drama with heirs, to a minimum – most people are reluctant to get that particular ball rolling.
Plan Man: Greg Reese Is Out to Make Estate Planning as Easy as Possible.
“It’s a weird, psychological impact for some people,” said Reese. “If they start thinking about wills and trusts, they’re thinking about dying. In their mind it can be a self-fulfilling prophecy, ‘If I create this will or trust, that means I’m probably going to die. ’ ”
“Middle America thinks, ‘I don’t have enough [wealth] to need an estate plan, ’” added Reese-Johnson. “But they have a house, and some money in the bank, and that house is their biggest investment. It’s a profitable asset, so you need a trust. Not only do you need the trust to fight probate, you need to set up your powers of attorney for help if you become incapacitated.”
Failing to face these inevitable truths does not stave them off, and can make end-of-life drama a whole lot worse.
“[Estate plans] are really about maintaining family harmony,” emphasized Reese. “We have a plan. We have direction and guidance for the kids. We have a mechanism that says, ‘If you fight over this, you may lose what we have intended for you.’ There’s some pretty strong protections against people contesting a trust. Anybody can test the will, and all it means is more money’s going to the lawyers than going to the family.”
“So, preserving family harmony – when the glue that traditionally held the family together is no longer there – it’s super important.”
Costa Mesan's at Heart: Art and Ellie Raised Their Kids, and Still Live, in Town.
Speaking of family harmony, it must take a fair amount to work alongside your kin each day. But it seems to come naturally to the Reese clan, who’ve worked together, on and off, for most of their lives.
“We started a real estate company back when, but then the market went soft,” said Ellie Reese, referring to the real estate slump in the mid-90s. “We decided we wanted to go into another field, estate planning. Greg had a lot of the experience in that. So we founded AmeriEstate in 1998, and we’ve grown exponentially over the years. So much so, we’ve moved, what, four times to different spaces?”
They may have moved offices four times, but after raising their kids in Mesa Verde, Art and Ellie still call Costa Mesa home. The Reese kids remember those growing-up days fondly: roaming the bluffs, biking to the beach, block parties, and a real sense of community.
“We’d rope off our street on the Fourth of July and have a picnic right in the middle,” said Ellie Reese.
That hometown connection may be why, no matter how much AmeriEstate grows nationwide, it’s still based here in Costa Mesa, California.
“Costa Mesa is really an idyllic middle space between Los Angeles and San Diego,” said Greg Reese. “It has a lot of unique things that other cities don’t have, all in the same city. Plus, you’re super close to the beach.”
“It’s eclectic, there’s something for everybody,” agreed Reese-Johnson.
“Within two miles of our house, there is so much of a variety of shopping,” said Art Reese. “South Coast Plaza down the street, restaurants, two Targets, just amazing shopping. You don’t have to drive very far, and it’s just a wonderful, balanced community. Neighborly people, too.”
As we talk up Costa Mesa around the conference table, a wistful look passes over Reese-Johnson’s face.
“I live in Irvine now, but I want to work my way back to living here,” she said about her hometown. “Before that, I lived in San Clemente for 15 years. But I always missed Costa Mesa.”
“San Clemente was nice, it was beautiful… but my heart is in Costa Mesa.” ♥