"I turned them all down," he said. "I have to tolerate a failure to act by ongoing clients but not someone who calls out of the blue."
Robert Lawrence of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP, said, "We're looking for relationships. This isn't a one-off thing. A private client is unique because the lawyer becomes a counselor to the family."
The work isn't easy, involving choices from an "alphabet soup of trust techniques," said David T. Leibell, a Wiggin and Dana LLP partner in Greenwich, Conn., who writes a monthly column for Trusts and Estates magazine.
A client needs to identify a trustee, perhaps a family member or a trusted banker or lawyer, said Kalb of Greenberg Traurig. Decisions are needed on whether the trust will make distributions and at what stages. He said that in a time crunch such as this, the process could be completed in two weeks. It normally takes much longer.
"Many clients coming to us today, we're advising them that unless it's a simple plan we cannot implement it by year end," Kalb said last week.
Even for the very affluent, wealth is often in the form of businesses, homes and artwork, the attorneys said. That means appraisals.
Calls from potential clients have skyrocketed, said Curtis Kimball, national director of wealth management valuations with the appraisal firm Willamette Management Associates in Atlanta.
Kimball is booked through December for new clients and must defer some appraisals until 2013. A specialist in valuing privately held companies and intellectual property, he is fielding requests in the coming weeks for values of companies in the real estate and timber industries as well as a best-selling author's literary property, he said.
"There are a lot of nervous wealthy people out there," Kimball said.
When an appraisal cannot be completed before year-end, one strategy involves funding a trust with cash or securities this year and swapping out the cash for an equivalent value of another asset after it's appraised.