Stories from the Frontier: LegalZoom Legal Plan Attorney Anne Helzer Talks About Life, the Law and Living in Alaska

Stories from the Frontier: LegalZoom Legal Plan Attorney Anne Helzer Talks About Life, the Law and Living in Alaska

by LegalZoom Staff, March 2017

After ten years as an online resource to help people handle their own legal matters, we had come to realize that we could only do so much with legal document production. Our customers had been asking for more—they wanted legal advice specific to their situation, which we couldn't provide. So we sought out attorneys who would consider a new "client centered" way to practice law.

We contracted with independent attorneys across the country to create the LegalZoom legal plans and help our customers with solid legal advice. Anne Helzer was one such attorney, who has been with our legal plan for 5 years. Hailing originally from New York, she found her way to Anchorage, Alaska where she has her own downtown law office. What we loved about Anne (and all our plan attorneys) is how committed she is to helping people. That was one of the top criteria for our plan attorneys. They had to genuinely care about helping people. Find out more about Anne, why she practices law, what she likes most about it, and about her Alaskan life and favorite family pastimes.

What inspired you to get into law?

My father was also lawyer and he inspired me. He was very knowledgeable about the law, a skillful lawyer and was a very good man. When you have knowledge of the law, you gain an understanding of what you can and cannot do. He listened to his clients, applied the law, and helped a lot of people. I wanted to be like him.

What was it about Alaska that drew you there?

My husband is a third-generation Alaskan. Moving to Alaska was a new adventure for me. As a native New Yorker, I was initially afraid to come here. But it was a wonderful move and I learned about the flip side of life. Now instead of skyscrapers, we have great mountain ranges and glaciers.

What do you like most about Alaska?

Since moving to Alaska, I have learned how to fly. I'm a student pilot. I love to go and do what they call “leaf peeping." Fall lasts a very short period of time here, so you want to go up in the plane just in that period of time where you can see all the leaves change. Because in just a week or so, they'll be gone.

Have you seen wildlife, like bears and stuff?

All the time! We have bears and moose walking through our backyard. They wander about. It's always exciting to see them, even if you have lived here for years. They're part of our culture. They're part of our community. The wildlife is very respected here.

What is it that you like about estate planning?

I love estate planning because I love people. I get to connect with people, learn about what their situations are and help them to come up with a plan that will work for them.

Another reason why I love estate planning is that while some people see it as a grim topic—I don't want to have to worry about that because it involves death, it involves loss, it involves all these things—what I love about it is that actually, you can do a whole lot of good with it.

What are some of the obstacles that people have when it comes to estate planning?

Sometimes I hear people say they don't really have anything, so they don't need an estate plan. Or they'll have a large estate with a lot of money, and they've focused adequately on the money part, but they forget about other things that they might have—such as medals from a war they fought in or a collection of something that had been of interest to them over the years. People can forget that maybe someone would cherish and be inspired by receiving those things.

How do you help people with their estate planning?

Oftentimes, people don't really know what to ask. If they've looked into it a little bit, they might say, I believe I need a will or I may need a trust. Which is a better tool for me to use?

What I say is let's sit down and talk about you, your plans and what it important to you. Or I send them out a questionnaire, so that I can get a snapshot as to what their estate might look like.

Then I can take that information and advise them in a number of ways. For instance, whether they'd be better served with a trust or if a will would work. A trust is a will substitute, so it's just another way of handling the plan. There are a number of tools that you can use to create a plan.

Is it important that they speak to a lawyer or is this something that people can do on their own?

It would be great if creating your own will could be done in all cases on your own. That might encourage more people to do it. If you go through the questions to put together a plan and start feeling insecure that maybe you're not answering the right way or have a question, or you need some guidance because of a complex family situation, in that event you should contact an attorney to assist you from start to finish.

Through LegalZoom, you have the option to speak with an attorney. Speaking with an attorney will either provide you with the confidence to go through with what you're doing or help you understand how you can do it differently.

What kinds of things can go wrong if you don't have a plan?

Many people don't have a will. It's so important to have a will, not just because you want to get your affairs in order, but because the people that you're leaving behind will want to find that document. They will want to know what you wanted.

To think that you don't need an estate plan—is to miss out on a lot of opportunities. Even a small gesture can mean a lot to the people that you leave behind. There's a lot more to it than people realize.

We don't know when death comes. Often, if not most of the time, we're not expecting it. When you lose a person in the family, the pieces are flying. Things are unsettled and everyone in the family is upset. What a will can do is ground everybody.

It sounds like from your perspective at least, that it's more of the human and the emotional part of it that's why estate planning is important.

It's not just a legal exercise. You can do a lot of good. When you lose someone, you really want a piece of that person. The kinds of families that end up in turmoil, in will contests, in strife and in difficulties with one another, I believe, are trying to resolve their grief. If the person who died just thought of each person, even in a small way, it can take the sting out of that loss.

While I represent clients in will contests and undue influence, while I believe in some cases those issues have to be litigated, I don't favor families being in court and I try to discourage that to the greatest extent possible.

Creating an estate plan provides the road map for how things should go, how people should treat one another. We want to put together a thoughtful plan where you don't leave anything to guessing because relationships are valuable. When you do that efficiently, there's so much less of a chance that people will be unhappy and will fight.

That's a really important goal for planning purposes. You don't want fights in the family. It's very unhappy and the courts don't like it. Once you get to that point, you don't really ever win. You might get what you want, but then you have no relationship with your family. And the relationships are everything.

It sounds like you really enjoy making a difference in people's lives.

I am rewarded by helping even just one person. I don't have to help 10,000 people to make a difference.

Do you talk to people about more than just estate planning?

Oh yes. I assist small businesses all around Alaska with formation, contracts and operations. I love assisting people with forming and running nonprofit organizations. I've helped snow removal companies, construction companies, expedition companies, fishing and guiding businesses, and commercial fishing and shipping companies where fishermen gather fish and ship it across the United States and beyond.

I've had the privilege of helping local businesses put together healing and medicinal products using Alaska tundra ingredients. I've helped embroidery companies and jewelry-making company that are Alaska-based. The range of assistance is wide but the philosophy is simple: how do I make this client's world a little better?

How do you like being part of LegalZoom's legal plan?

I love what I do. I can't say enough good things about LegalZoom, particularly because I have found that LegalZoom is reaching so many people that would otherwise not have legal access. It's so exciting to hear about people and their business ventures. It's so rewarding for me to do the guiding. It's just great.

How has living in Alaska changed you?

Living here makes you realize how truly small we are in this planet. Although winters are harsh, the sunsets here are amazing and the sunrises, the snow. You're reminded every day of the majesty of it all, which makes you realize that you're an important part of that. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else.

To speak with Anne or an independent attorney in your state, sign up for a LegalZoom legal plan and get guidance on business or personal matters for a low monthly fee. To learn more about the attorneys from across the country who are part of our network, visit our Legal Plan Attorney Directory.

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