2018 Outstanding Professional Adviser of the Year - Michael May

From risk to reward job change pays off for Mequon attorney

Michael May insists he’s not a risk-taker. Yet he took a huge one in 2008 when he left a secure corporate job to start his own law firm.

To remind himself why he “jumped off a cliff,” as he says, he keeps a photo of his grandmother, Gerrie Kolleng, as a young girl in 1916, prominently displayed in his Mequon office.

“She encouraged me to take risks and live life to the fullest,” said May, “even though it is not always in my nature to do so.”

May, a 1990 graduate of University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School, had been teaching estate planning to advisers at a large financial services company when he decided to go out on his own — with no clients. Ten years later, his practice is flourishing, with 70 to 80 percent of his clients seeking estate planning guidance.

“Clients come to me for many reasons,” said May, “but one is that if you don’t have an estate plan, the government creates one for you. And a judge will pick who is in charge of your affairs, not you.”

He points out that without an estate plan, clients’ children might only inherit 60 cents on the dollar, with the government getting the rest.

“It is appealing to many clients to leave that money to charity, because the charity receives it all,” May said.

Many of his clients, he added, also have altruistic reasons for creating an estate plan that includes charitable bequests.

“With a plan in place, they appreciate having done something lasting and permanent,” he said.

For those interested in philanthropy, May frequently suggests the Greater Milwaukee Foundation as the vehicle.

“It’s such a well-run organization that clients will often thank me later for referring them,” May said.

In 2017 alone, May brought more than a half dozen new legacy donors to the Foundation. He also connects the Foundation with other professional advisers.

“It’s critical for us to have relationships with estate planners because we estimate that between two-thirds and three- quarters of our donors come from professional advisers,” said Mary Kay Mark, the Foundation’s director of gift planning. “Mike is a really great partner in that he makes charitable giving a regular part of his conversations with clients.”

Two of the clients who were more than happy to work with the Foundation are Ed Inderrieden and Jean Maier of Mequon. The retired couple — he from teaching at the Marquette University College of Business Administration, she as an executive vice president at Northwestern Mutual — said Mike was extremely helpful in providing them information and in walking them through the process of setting up a Foundation fund.

“What really enticed me was that it simplified my recordkeeping,” Inderrieden said. “It’s tedious, and at the end of every year, I’m grateful. I say thank you to the Foundation and to Mike.”

Said Mike, “What may look like a boring way of making a living is actually very interesting. Every family is a story, a novel.”

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