Melanie Schnoll Begun JD '94
Early in her career, Melanie Schnoll Begun JD '94 learned that when drafting wills and trusts, clients needed to be clear about their intentions with family. Poor planning can result in unintended consequences.
"Don't keep estate plans a secret," says Schnoll Begun, managing director of philanthropy management at Morgan Stanley, where she has been able to apply that knowledge to the firm's ultrahigh net worth clients, helping them develop areas of focus for their philanthropy.
Schnoll Begun has found that a parent's well-intentioned philanthropic legacy can turn into a litigious nightmare or even prompt a child to question a parent's love.
"Philanthropy should be the glue that keeps families together and helps them realize how they can transform their community and even the world," she says.
After graduation, Schnoll Begun landed an internship at a New York law firm that hired her as a trust and estate attorney. "I realized as a young attorney that 10 percent of my role was as counsel and 90 percent as psychiatrist," she says.
Four years later, she was recruited by Smith Barney (now Morgan Stanley after several mergers and joint ventures). She has worked in the New York City office as head of philanthropy management, advising donors, foundations, family offices and nonprofit organizations for more than 17 years.
She explained that a good financial planner knows a client's goals, aspirations, family dynamics and the role wealth plays in the process and works in consort with a lawyer to implement a client's wishes.
Schnoll Begun's team also handles institutional philanthropy, helping to evaluate fundraising campaigns for organizations. "One of my responsibilities is to help the director of development make more effective asks," she explains.
"I would love young attorneys going into my field to learn this life lesson: You are not there to produce a document-that is not the value a lawyer brings. You need to be the client's trusted adviser. The document is the byproduct the client signs. Good attorneys spend most of their time getting to know what makes their clients tick and only then draft a plan."
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