ORLANDO – Thousands of estate planners, attorneys, trust officers and wealth-management professionals are swarming a resort hotel here this week for a conference – the Heckerling Institute on Estate Planning, a division of the University of Miami School of Law – that is likely the largest such gathering in the world.
Attendees at the 46th annual incarnation of the five-day conference have been immersed since Monday in the minutiae of the latest estate planning techniques and strategies, as well as related areas such as elder law, asset protection and income tax planning. Equally important, in many attendees' eyes, are the extensive networking and professional development opportunities that make attending the Heckerling Institute a valuable investment for estate planning professionals.
"This is the largest collection of estate planning people there is," said Samuel T. Freeman III, a vice president of trusts and estates at Freeman's, a Philadelphia-based auction and appraisal house, who has been attending the Heckerling event since 2006, when it was held in Miami Beach. "Gaining access to that group of people is terribly important. When you get seen every year, people get comfortable with you, they recognize the name, and you get a bit of a buzz."
To capitalize on those connections, Freeman's company – founded in 1805 by one of his ancestors, seven generations back — is hosting a luncheon here this week, for the first time. It is one of many such events surrounding the conference, which is titled "Flexible Planning Strategies for Uncertain Times."
Another midday event is the annual Law Alumni Luncheon, on Wednesday, at which the guest speaker will be Miami Law Professor Stephen K. Urice, who will address the topics of "Antiquities, the Law and Your Client's Will." Among the evening events is a reception on Tuesday hosted by the University of Miami Office of Estate and Gift Planning.
Sessions of the conference include a wide range of subjects: "What Your Mother Never Told You About Powers of Appointment"; "Straightjacket Trusts: Requested, Needed or Imposed by Default?"; "The Last Picture Show: What You Should Do With Your Art"; "Twenty Tax Traps and Other Trustee Selection Considerations;" and "Marriage, Domestic Partnerships, Civil Union – the Developing Legal Landscape," among others.
Ilan Davidovici, standing in the exhibit hall at the Orlando World Center Marriott, said he did not think twice about attending. "Anybody who wants to know what's happening in the field of estate planning, and meet the movers and shakers – whether it's estate planning attorneys, CPA's, financial planners or life insurance agents, or the organizations that provide services to these individuals – Heckerling is the place to see and be seen," said Davidovici, president of Citadel Trust Advisors, which specializes in the complexities of irrevocable life insurance trusts from its base in St. Louis.
Davidovici, who has been attending the Heckerling conference for four years, said he does so "to learn who has business to give me." Asked whether he was satisfied with the results, he said he would "not be spending $5,000 a year to come here if I didn't think it was worthwhile." The benefits, he added, are mostly intangible, but they are sometimes reflected "on the bottom line."
Another attendee, David Simkowitz, a financial planner and life insurance professional who has also been a Heckerling participant for four years, said he always learns "new ideas and concepts" at the conference that he can use with his clients, and refreshes old ones.
"I love to exhibit here," said Simkowitz, who is based in Brooklyn, N.Y. "I have developed relationships on a very high level."