Walter C. Cox, Jr., is an attorney and counselor at law in Lexington, Kentucky, who specializes in estate planning through revocable living trusts. Not only has he practiced law for decades—and for 30 years, he’s been recognized AV preeminent by Martindale-Hubbell—but Mr. Cox also served in World War II and the Korean War (as JAG). These experiences shaped his professional outlook on what really matters. In serving his clients, as in serving in the military, says Mr. Cox, “you learn that human relationships are the most important thing.”
What is your primary legal focus?
I do estate planing, mostly through trusts—revocable living trusts. It’s something I can do without stress. I don’t have to work the old-time way; what I used to do is stay up until 10:00 at night and get up at 4:00 a.m. to do trial work. Once I retired, I decided to do something where I’m not a slave to law practice.
Can you explain “revocable living trust”?
Where a will requires a probate, here, you establish a trust. The trust lives on after you die. You select your children or whomever—maybe a bank—to be a trustee. They live on and get done what you wanted to do after you die. They can pay the money to your children if you want, or you can keep the money in a trust and give it to your grandchildren or great-grandchildren. It’s that sort of thing.
The biggest thing we have to get across is that you don’t have to get court approval. A will has to be recorded in your county clerk’s office. A trust never gets recorded. So you have privacy also.
What are some typical obstacles faced by many of your clients?
Well, they want to make sure their estate goes the way they want it to. They want to make sure it goes with the least problems with their estate and trustees. The trust starts immediately, so you appoint people to take care of you when you’re alive. If you get mentally or physically disabled, you get someone to take care of you. You’re taking care of yourself while you’re alive.
Is it difficult, discussing end-of-life plans with families?
I don’t find that to be difficult. I find that people, by the time they get to me, have made up their mind that they need to do something. They don’t know exactly what that is, but they know they need to do something. And they need to know that it’s going to work, that they don’t have to go to court. Most folks have their minds made up, what they want. I provide them with information about what they can and can’t do. I ask pertinent questions, and we get to talking about it. Then I’m able to get them to open up as to their relationships with their children or grandchildren. When they leave here, they feel relaxed about it. When we sign the papers and get it done, they feel like they’re ready to go.
You served in WWII and the Korean War. How did your military background prepare you for law?
The discipline of the army and the necessity of doing what you have to do certainly was the largest thing. If you’re in the army, you have to do your orders, no matter what. You learn that procedure. Then when you get into law, you certainly have to do whatever’s necessary to protect your client. That requires discipline, secrecy, and all of the above, in addition to everything else.
I was a company commander with over 200 men, and learning to deal with all those men, and learning about each one of them—I knew them by first name and I knew their families—you learn that human relations are the most important thing, along with how to deal with an individual. It’s the same with law practice. You need to know all about your clients: Why they’re there and what they need to either correct or solve their problems.
Not to stray too far from the subject, but can you compare your personal post-military experience with that of returning service members today?
When we returned, I would wake up in the middle of the night, dreaming about being shot at. It took me three or four years to stop that. I was okay; I just dreamed a lot, and I would wake up in the middle of a firefight.
I guess we didn’t have anybody to talk to. We just overcame it. I guess some who had it really bad didn’t. But most of us went on with our work, went onto college, got our degrees, and eventually got over it.
I speak to high schoolers a lot, and I tell them that the one thing you need to do is establish something they can do for the rest of their lives. That’s not a job where they can be fired. If they go to college or vocational school, they’ll always have something they can do, no matter where they are or what they’re doing.
What’s most satisfying about your work?
Well, I get letters from people all the time—the children, mainly—thanking me for doing what I do for their family, that it worked out so easily. They’re very satisfied. When you get letters from people , saying they’re happy for doing what you do, that’s satisfying. What I do is so much better than wills or general law practice. There aren’t over two percent of lawyers that know a damn thing about trusts. I’ve seen what lawyers do, and they don’t know beans about preparing a proper trust.
I got my picture in the paper not too long ago, for being rated AV preeminent for 30 years by Martindale-Hubbell. I went to a lady’s house—she had a problem with her legs, so she couldn’t go anywhere—and I had to go visit her at her house. She had my picture that was in the paper there. So it paid off, because we did a trust for her. In fact, I’m working on it today.