Editor's Note: Peter just celebrated his 20th anniversary with our firm and this gave him pause to reflect upon his life’s path to where he is today.
by Peter A. Keon, Attorney
I grew up in the Philadelphia area, attending high school and college there. My academic focus from an early stage was on accounting, and I took accounting in high school. I liked the precision of working with numbers and using them to identify and solve problems. In college, my major was in business administration and accounting, with a minor in economics. At some point in college, the thought was put into my head that if I wanted to really have a significant career I may want to consider the combination of ultimately being a CPA and an attorney. But I wasn’t sure how, when, and where that would happen. Now I realize. . .
It All Started With a Road Trip
When I graduated from college in 1986, I and my best friend Tim (whom I had known since I was 10 or 11) thought, after all these years of school, we were either going to go to Europe or across the country, and we debated it. There was some upheaval in Europe with terrorism and political instability, so we thought that we would pass on Europe and decided to circle the United States instead.
In order to enjoy the beauty of the country and be free to set our own schedule, we decided to travel by car but not in our own cars, which neither of us owned at that time. We ended up being very fortunate in that we were able to move three different cars from one place to another, first from Philly to Seattle then another down to San Francisco and then another to LA. Tim and I, along with our other good friend from the neighborhood, Carter, who flew out to San Francisco where we met up, stayed at a fraternity at USC for about three weeks. Our new friends from the fraternity then drove us to Mexico for an amazing one-day excursion and then dropped us off at my grandmother’s house in Encinitas in San Diego County. We stayed another three weeks there before Tim and Carter decided they wanted to fly back to Philadelphia. However I was really enjoying Southern California and decided to stay another five months before driving east right after Thanksgiving.
At the time that Tim and I left Philadelphia, right after graduating from college, I was in an exploratory mode and felt that seeing the country would be eye opening. In Philadelphia, the city is centralized and at times could feel confining so the USA and the west beckoned me. Discovering California after seeing the beauty of the United States was life changing. Southern California seemed like an entirely different country! My eyes were opened to an entirely different kind of life, environment, and style of living from Philly.
I couldn't believe people actually lived near the beach. I knew about the Jersey shore, but the shore was a vacation destination, dead during the winter. But in Southern California, it was all year round. The whole LA area was so huge and varied to me. I just couldn't believe how you could just drive and drive and drive and it just never ended. And there was so much always going on. Lots of concerts, different sports, with multiple teams for various sports. The kind of events I love.
Then Came the Back and Forth
Philly was still my home and it called me back. I didn't know if I would ever return to Southern California again. I was 22 so I was going to roll with it and try and find a job in Philly. But when I got into my first CPA firm job in downtown Philly, I wasn't happy from the get-go. After just a year, I decided to come back to California.
At first, I tried living in Huntington Beach and Encinitas but didn’t like it as much as when I had visited LA. So I had sought out other opportunities, and then I finally got an offer from a Century City CPA Firm, where I worked for 6 years. That's where I got all my CPA qualifying hours. I enjoyed it. I loved LA.
In January of '95, I got my CPA license and I applied to law school. Oddly, I wound up heading back to Philly and attending Temple University Law School. My friend Tim's father was a prominent attorney in Philly, who went to Temple and wrote me a letter of recommendation.
At Temple, I concurrently earned a law degree and a Masters Degree in Tax Law. And then, as I reached my third and final year, I started applying for jobs. After three years, I just settled on staying in Philly.
I wound up with a prominent law firm, crunching numbers and assessing legal qualifications for city and local county bond offerings. Then the thing about Philadelphia that always would happen, did again. I wasn't happy. I was always complaining and I had to listen to myself (as did my friends and family) about how I didn't like it. I felt boxed in again and felt that I needed to explore what Southern California had to offer now that I had become an attorney.
Finally, in May 2000 I decided to come back to Southern California, a third time, I got organized and prepared for a 10-day drive across the country to Southern California.
The Third Time’s the Charm
The trip itself confirmed my final decision. I felt like a black cloud lifted and I got to enjoy myself again. If you don’t know, I’m a fanatical baseball fan (check out one of my other articles). I stopped along the way at Busch Stadium where I got home run slugger Mark McGuire's autograph during warm-ups. That was very cool. I made the trip basically going along Route 66 from the Midwest to LA.
Believe it or not (and looking back I found it hard to believe) I didn’t even have a job lined up. I wound up working at a couple of CPA firms and then I went full bore into studying for the California Bar, and got my California law license in March of 2003.
Somehow, I Wound Up Here
As my first job as a lawyer, I worked downtown for a sole proprietor who was doing a myriad of things, some estate planning, landlord/tenant, bankruptcy, and immigration. Frankly, it was kind of low-end. So I began looking for something bigger and better. That basically landed me here at Kavesh, Minor and Otis in July 2003.
Immediately I liked the opportunity at Kavesh, Minor and Otis because of my background in tax, accounting, and law. Interestingly, Phil Kavesh had a very similar background. I could see how the combination of my accounting skills with my law knowledge could help people to understand and get their estate plan together. I had done a little estate planning before, but it was so rudimentary. And quite frankly, when I saw how KMO was doing it, it was night and day from what we were doing downtown. That was pretty impressive to me and it seemed like a good opportunity for me. I had no idea if it was going to last. As you can see, I had moved a lot from job to job. Who would've known my stay at KMO was going to last 20 years? I guess you never know if and how things are going to work out.
Some Fond Memories
When I look back now at my 20 years here, I recall many memorable moments. I’ve loved the camaraderie, the lawyers and staff I’ve spent time to know and enjoy. I especially liked our firm’s Ensenada Cruise, which was really a fun event where the whole firm partied together outside the office. From a pure work perspective, I’m very gratified knowing I’ve saved people a lot of taxes and provided for the future security of their loved ones. I’ve really positively affected people's lives and their families' lives by helping them. That’s why I keep at it after all these 20 years.
And I Do Have A Bit of Free Advice
For You and Your Loved Ones
Well, so far as life is concerned, go with your head and heart when making big decisions, even if it takes making the same kind of decision multiple times before you get it right!
And, as I look back on these 20 years as an estate planning attorney, the number one piece of advice I would give to people about estate planning is, come to one of my seminars to learn about it, but ultimately whether you do or not, just get it done. Keep in mind the fact that you can change your plan later. Avoid the court system which, in this state and local counties, can be onerous on families. Avoid all the stories you’ve probably heard that keep occurring, where people fight over estates. Second, and equally important, make sure you periodically review your estate plan and keep it up to date with your wishes because that too helps prevent a lot of the fighting later.
I now look forward to the years to come and hope to see you at one of my seminars!