|FAMILY MATTERS: John Bergner and his team work with multimillionaires to carefully pass money on to loved ones.
photography by Joshua Martin
Toward the end of last year, John Bergner, chairman of The Wealth Preservation Practice Group at the Dallas office of Winstead PC, was getting more new-business calls than usual. The Dow’s volatility had struck a nerve with some of his super-affluent clients, while the tax policies of Barack Obama concerned others.
“Right before the election I was getting calls from people worried about Obama’s tax policy,” Bergner said. “But I just calmed them down and let them know a whole lot probably won’t change during his first year in office.”
Bergner and his team of six lawyers counsel a client base of corporate executives, business owners, and individuals worth at least $25 million—most are worth four times that—in all aspects of wealth preservation, protection, and transfer.
Bergner says now is the perfect time to shift wealth through Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts, or GRATs, for example. The trusts can be used to transfer money tax-free to anyone, but most often are employed by a parent transferring money to his or her children, or sometimes to a spouse, sibling, or significant other.
Professional athletes and team owners, execs at some of the world’s largest companies, and other high-profile customers look to Bergner for new ways to maintain their wealth, regardless of the economy. He and his team of lawyers and legal assistants meet every other week to go through recent court decisions, IRS rulings, legislation, and pending proposed regulations to see if any new ideas or concepts should be integrated into their strategies.
For Bergner it’s all about return on investment—and value-added benefits. “The best compliment I’ve got from a client,” he says, “was after I sent him a bill and he sent me a check with a note on the back that read, ‘Dear John, you’re expensive but worth it.’ I want every client to think I’m expensive but worth it.”