Julia Roberts in thigh-high pirate boots and fishnet stockings held together by safety pins walks like a stomping pony through the lobby of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. There, she is met by Richard Gere, who is wearing a finely woven and bespoke three-piece suit. Arm in arm they take the elevator to the penthouse suite. And so goes the movie Pretty Woman.

But stay with me in the lobby. Walk with me past the displays for luxury boutiques—Stefano Ricci, Louis Vuitton, David Webb, Panerai—and Wolfgang Puck’s Cut lounge and restaurant, to the driveway which separates the front building of the hotel from its rear tower. Maneuver, as I do, between a Rolls-Royce Phantom and a Lamborghini Aventador SuperVeloce roadster, and wait as a Mercedes-Maybach S 600 rolls by. Step to the other side of the driveway, push open the gold-plated door and enter the plush environs where real billionaire business gets done—in the ballroom and function rooms on the second floor.

In the grand ballroom on a sunny autumn day not too long ago, Thomas Handler, an advanced planning attorney focused on the analysis and structuring of sophisticated estate plans and family offices, was giving a presentation to a gathering of family office executives. He spoke about the need for reform. He advocated for transparency. And he prognosticated the future (it’s virtual).

Handler is one of the most respected tax and estate lawyers in the world. His Chicago-based firm, Handler Thayer LLP, operates all over the globe and has won numerous awards for its outstanding service to the likes of billionaires, celebrities and athletes.

A Handler speech at the podium can go from the obscure bit of U.S. tax law involving naked grantor retained annuity trusts to a discussion of wealth trends in China. His deep knowledge set is fostered by experience. (He has been steeped in the wealth arena for nearly 30 years, and received the 2017 Family Wealth Alliance Leadership Award for Lifetime Achievement.) So when Handler explains where and how family offices are highly vulnerable to wealth disintegration, or where estate plan protections break down most, or why wills can be contested, it’s worth pulling up a chair and listening to what he has to say.

I’ll attempt to guide you through Handler’s most astute observations from the talks he’s given, as well as from our one-on-one conversations, e-mails and interviews. But first, let’s get to know him a bit.

He has a bachelor’s degree in accountancy from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a law degree from DePaul University College of Law in Chicago. He worked his way through college doing taxes—invaluable experience it turned out, as he was able to leverage his client base and working knowledge of the tax system into a job at a major law firm. There, he quickly schooled the senior partners on the need for an updated computer system and penned a law review article that is still cited in cases today: “Tortious Interference with Contract and Prospective Advantage in Illinois,” which he wrote with Ronald Broida for the DePaul Law Review in 1983. For his efforts, he got a big “thank you,” but that was it.

“Brought in a bunch of business, wrote a white paper, published an article, and there was no bonus,” he recalls.

With his client base and referrals from classmates, Handler decided to go out on his own. His plan from the get-go was to seek out higher-net-worth taxpayers who owned businesses—an underserved niche he knew from preparing taxes. The strategy paid off, and soon his firm was getting a higher batting average with the very wealthy. So the path forward was seemingly clear. This was in the 1980s, before the Family Office Association—the first such organization of its kind—was even formed. His experience now includes tax controversy, estate contests, tax litigation, public accounting and corporate and foundation directorships. He even recently penned his first article in Chinese for a major Asian financial publication.

OK, so this is the guy we are listening to. A rather impressive resume, yes? That means he should know the alchemy to a successful family office.

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