By Attorney Philip J. Kavesh
If you have ever attended one of my presentations, you already know that one of my favorite things in life and throughout my career has been presenting educational seminars on estate planning. What you may not know, however, are some of the unusual stories and occurrences I have experienced in doing over 3,000 seminars over the past 35 plus years.
I've had so many funny, odd and not-so-funny events happen on the way to, during and after seminars that I really have to probe my memory to pick out the most unusual ones.
The Usual “Stuff”
Of course, I've encountered all the usual or typical “goofs” that any seminar speaker has experienced over time. I've traveled to the wrong hotel, or gotten there on the wrong day and time. Or, I've arrived to the right venue and found the seminar room locked and no one could find the key, or found the room open but all the chairs locked up in the storage closet with no one able to assist us in getting the chairs out. I've forgotten the slides or handouts or brought the wrong ones. I've suffered equipment failures, power outages, the projector screen collapsing and even the overhead sprinklers going off! However, I'll bypass all these mundane misfortunes and go right to the weirdest, most memorable occurrences.
Let me start with some of the "lighter" ones.
The Jokester & His "Match"
I recall that once, during a seminar, I was talking about how all your assets comprise your estate, even your antiques and junk - - and quipped "you know there's a fine line between the antiques and junk!" Immediately, a gentleman turned to his wife and blurted out, "Yeah, I know - - she's the antique and she says I'm the junk!" (To which his wife instantly reacted by hitting him in the face with her handbag!)
"Please Hold Your Questions Until the End..."
Another time, during a seminar, a lady began raising her hand above her head. I stopped and reminded her - - per the housekeeping rules I set out when we began, to please hold her question until the end of the presentation and I would be happy to answer it then. But that didn't stop her. Moments later, she raised her hand again. I again had to nicely remind her to please wait. Then, after 20 minutes, just when things appeared to be okay, she once again raised her hand, began waiving it wildly back and forth and practically jumped out of her seat to get my attention. I finally caved in and said, "All right, I'll answer your question now", to which she shrieked out, "Can I go to the bathroom?!" and then proceeded to run out of the room! (Wow, I am guessing that as a youngster, she must have attended a really strict school!)
The Sleepy Attendee
I can recall receiving many strange questions during the question and answer session at the end of my seminar presentations. One of my favorites came from an elderly man, seated in the front row, who had seemed to doze off at times during my two-hour, detailed discussion of Living Trusts. When this discussion was over, he raised his hand and I politely asked him for his question. He stopped, seemingly locked in deep thought and then slowly asked, "What's this here Living Trust thing you've been talkin' about?"
Please, Sir, May I Have Some More?
Another time, at a free dinner seminar we were hosting, I got to the question and answer session, but no one raised their hand, so I stood there and waited for a moment. Finally, I saw a hand go up and I said, out of relief, "Good, a question!" I called on the gentleman, to which he responded, "Can I get another dinner and dessert to take home?" I responded, “Sure.” And then he asked, “Can I get one for each of my guests at the table with me?”
This brings me to the story of the near riot I once caused at the end of a seminar...
I was expecting a large, late afternoon audience and we had put out a big spread of gourmet cheeses, fruit, rolls, desserts and candies. When I finished the seminar, I noticed the great amount of food left, so I said, "Help yourselves to any of the remaining food." You should have seen the people bolt out of their seats and stampede to the back of the room. I stood there and watched in shock as people began fighting over the leftovers. People were elbowing each other out of the way, while shoving food in their pockets and handbags!
I've also had some "heavier", more serious events occur.
We Will Never Forget
One emblazoned in my mind happened just as I was about to leave my home to go to a seminar. I had spent a great deal of time and energy preparing for this particular seminar and I was excited to give it - - my first ever on the new invention I had just created, the standalone, IRS-approved, IRA Inheritance Trust®. As I was halfway out the door, my wife screamed, "Your Mom is on the phone and she sounds like she's having a heart attack!" I ran to the phone and my Mom was shouting almost incoherently, "Turn on your TV…RIGHT NOW!" I did and just as the picture came on I saw an airplane fly into the side of a skyscraper building. The day was September 11th, 2001. After I calmed down my Mom (who lived close to New York and was afraid for her life!), I called my office to cancel the seminar, a small personal misfortune compared to the horrible loss of life and suffering of many others on that day.
Another False Alarm?
I've also had to call off seminars midway through them due to unexpected, near catastrophic events. Once I was speaking at a hotel where an irritating, loud fire signal repeatedly went off, followed by an announcement over the loudspeaker, "Sorry for the false alarm!" So when it happened for about the fifth time, I just calmly said to the audience, "Don't worry. Stay seated. It's probably just another false alarm." Everything did seem fine, until a few minutes later a man in the audience jumped out of his seat and motioned to the window where we could all see smoke and flames lapping up the side of the building! Fortunately, we all immediately got out of the room to safety. But you can imagine the ensuing chaos as fire engines were pulling into the parking lot, attendees were scurrying in all directions and, needless to say, I didn’t get any response forms or appointments that day.
Thanks to the Men in Blue
Another mid-seminar disaster was far more strange. As I was speaking, I faced the back of the room where the entry and exit doors were located across from each other. All of a sudden, one door swung wide open and a man with a hoodie pulled over much of his face ran across the back, heading for the other door - - followed by a policeman with his gun drawn! They continued their chase out the exit door, and shortly thereafter police backup came in and cleared the audience and me from the room. As we were standing in the parking lot watching the police place a tape barrier around the building, I realized, to my dismay, that all my seminar equipment, handouts and keys to my car were still in the room - - and I had to travel to another location in about 45 minutes to give another seminar! This time not only was I unable to collect the response form from the seminar attendees, but I had to call off the next seminar. Instead, I wound up spending hours swapping policemen jokes with the officers in the parking lot before they finally let me back in the room. (You know, I never did find out whether the hooded man was apprehended or why they were chasing him in the first place!)
An Important Lesson Learned by Everybody That Day
But the one mid-seminar disaster I most often recall was scarier than either a roaring fire or armed police chase. While I was speaking, I noticed that a man in the audience suddenly slumped over and looked like he was about to fall out of his chair. The person seated next him shouted out, "Dial 9-1-1!" My assistant did so immediately and laid the apparently unconscious man flat on the floor. Within a few minutes, paramedics rushed in, placed him on a gurney and wheeled him out. No one knew if he was dead or not, or whether he could be revived. I didn’t know what to do, so I asked the audience if we should continue on or end the seminar. They wanted me to continue. After all this disruption, I tried my best to return to my seminar presentation and in a short time seemed to have recaptured the audience's attention, when all of a sudden the paramedics wheeled the man, now in a conscious and seated position, back into the room! As the rest of us looked at him in shock, he explained, "I'm okay. Just had a minor heart attack because I forgot my medicine - - but I wasn't going to let them take me to the hospital because I really need to listen to what you have to say!" His entrance seemed right on cue because I was just about to flip to the slide where I explain that the reason people don't have any estate plan, or one that has become old and out-of-date, is procrastination - - and that none of us has a guarantee we'll have a chance to take care of it tomorrow! Needless to say, everyone at that seminar wound up making a consultation appointment and getting an estate plan with us! (And, by the way, there may be a lesson in this story for you, too!)
All's Well That Ends Well
Despite all the wild, crazy, funny (and at times not-so-funny) things that have happened on the way to and during my seminars, a wonderful event frequently transpired at the end that kept me and others at our firm plugging along all these years. Invariably, someone - - either a client of our firm, or a trustee who has served on behalf of an incapacitated or deceased client, or a client's beneficiary - - walked up, extended his or her hand, and personally thanked me for how we have helped them. That alone made all the seminar "madness" I've endured worthwhile. And it serves as a reminder why I got into this area of law and have devoted to it over half my lifetime.
Hopefully, if you're not already a client of ours, you'll take the time to attend one of our upcoming free educational seminars. And, of course, if you're a client in need of a refresher or know of someone who may benefit from our services, please feel free to attend and bring them as well. I promise you we'll try to keep the seminar as entertaining - - and uneventful - - as possible!
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If you need to speak with an experienced estate planning lawyer please contact us online or call us directly at 800.756.5596 to first register for one of our free, informative seminars. Your attendance will qualify you for a special discount for our estate planning services should you decide to make a free appointment at the conclusion of the seminar and choose to proceed with us. We proudly serve clients throughout California with offices in Torrance, Newport Beach, Orange, Woodland Hills and Pasadena.