Being brought up in a family-owned business taught Kim at an early age how to run a business. But it wasn’t her dream. Law became a second career, and her experience with family tragedy set the stage for a successful one.
Business Owner at a Young Age
Going to work for her family’s clothing business at the age of 10 was what she was told to do. Learning the day-to-day operations of manufacturing at the side of her father was a gift. She didn’t realize it until his untimely death at the age of 45. Armed with the knowledge of what he taught her, she continued on and grew the business along with her sister and mother. Ups and downs, twists and turns led Kim to learn how to adapt to changing times.
Oldest Student In The Class
A visit to a courthouse as a child sparked a dream that she was able to pursue after she sold the family business. She found herself the oldest student in her classes at Pepperdine Law School. And having the knowledge of what it was like for her father to die without an estate plan is what leads her to this day. Her clients may not know entirely what drives her, but what they do know is that she has been in many of their shoes. Her compassion for family situations along with her experience with family-owned businesses makes her a successful estate planning and trust administration attorney.
Listen to Kim’s story here.
Click here for transcript
Intro Speaker 0:00
From Los Angeles, this is the Echelon Radio Network.
Jerri Hemsworth 0:15
So this is Jerri Hemsworth with the Echelon Radio Broadcast. And I am sitting here today with Kim Millman. She is an estate and well, let me back it up. You’re a trust and estate planning attorney. Does it always go trust and estate planning attorney?
Kim Millman 0:34
Actually, I generally describe it as estate planning and trust administration.
Jerri Hemsworth 0:38
Oh, there it is. Okay. And what’s the difference between estate planning and trust administration?
Kim Millman 0:42
So, estate planning is what happens before someone dies. And trust administration is what happens after somebody dies.
Jerri Hemsworth 0:50
Which I would imagine is a much longer process.
Kim Millman 0:53
Yes, it’s actually much longer, more complicated and generally more expensive. So, and there’s a very big misconception about that, because people are sort of conditioned to believe that if you do an estate plan, that’s a trust based plan. You don’t have to go to probate and when someone dies, you are done. You don’t do anything, right. And that’s not true. There is as much work if not more, after someone passes away. The trust, the trust doesn’t actually do anything. It’s not magic, it’s instructions. It tells people what to do. Okay, it doesn’t move assets around. It doesn’t tell beneficiaries anything. Somebody has to read it, follow the laws of the state, the federal government and the trust document itself. So that’s what trust administration is. It’s following the probate code and doing all the required notifications, and filing all the tax returns, finding the assets, valuing the assets, figuring out what the trust instructs the trustee to do. And then doing that, that process, in general takes between nine and 18 months. It depends on how complicated the assets are, how messy the decedent was, and whether or not things are nice and organized. Whether that’s, well, there’s debts. There’s, I’ll give you a classic example. I had a client, who I had known this family for many years, but I was friends with one of the sons in the family. I didn’t really know his father, his father was by profession, he invested in second trust deeds, for the most part. So the most of them were hard money loans. He had lots of deals, lots of things where he was the creditor, okay, but we had minimal, no records, he also had a tendency to invest in very risky deals with minimal to no paperwork. So when he passed away, we had three checks. Each check was a half a million dollars. And it said in the bottom: investment. So the two sons were like, Well, how do we get our money back? I go, Well, how do we find our money? How do we deal with this? So that was an example of the most confusing, but then there are people that…I have one going right now where the client was a business owner, as far as his family knew, quite a successful business owner. He died of COVID. He caught it. And he died a week later, totally, suddenly, no understanding of expectation that he was in poor health. And we’re still looking for his situation. It’s been going on for months. We found, I think at last count, we had 35 bank accounts.
Jerri Hemsworth 3:57
You gotta be kidding me.
Kim Millman 3:59
Nope. We had I think about 30 credit cards. We have four or five pieces of real property, all of which have loans on it, because he was a business owner, he had taken out a PPP loan and an SBA loan within a month of his death. It’s a puzzle.
Jerri Hemsworth 4:18
And do you like those kinds of cases?
Kim Millman 4:19
I love those kinds of things. I love the puzzle. What I don’t do is litigation. So if anybody’s fighting, I don’t like the fights. And I don’t take on those cases.
Jerri Hemsworth 4:34
Well, perhaps law is your second career, because in junior high and high school, you worked after school. Where did you work?
Kim Millman 4:46
So my parents started a business in the fashion business when I was 10. Actually started it when I was nine. When I was 10, my mother announced that I needed to get a job since I had now attained double digit age status. This Oh dear. So my parents were childhood sweethearts. My father grew up in the Catskill Mountains. They both grew up in the Catskill Mountains. But my father’s family owned a hotel that was very similar to Dirty Dancing. Exactly like Dirty Dancing in the Catskills. And the reason my parents met is because my mother was a dancer at the hotel when they were teenagers. So my father had this understanding that you basically give birth to your employees.
Jerri Hemsworth 5:32
Oh, my gosh.
Kim Millman 5:33
That’s his family was. Every member of his family. The hotel was started by his grandfather. There was his grandfather, he had five children, their five children, their five husbands, those five couples had 10 grandchildren, they all live together on the hotel property. And they all worked in the hotel, every one of them. Truly a family business. So my father, that’s how he thought family business worked. So I have one sister. The family business was my mother was the marketing side in the apparel industry. And I was groomed to be my father’s escape plan. That’s how that’s how they were going to retire. They were gonna give everything to me and my sister whether we liked it or not.. So when I was 10, and my mother made me this proposition, I said, Well, I’m 10 years old, who’s gonna hire me? And of course, she said, I will. So every day after school, I literally worked 40 hours a week, from the time I was 10. I worked all the way through high school, or all the way to junior high through high school. I went to CSUN because it was close by. I worked 40 plus hours a week in college.
Jerri Hemsworth 6:55
Did you ever question it or was it that this was normal for you and you don’t question it?
Kim Millman 7:01
So it’s kind of both. When I was 10. My, my fourth grade class went on a field trip to a courthouse. And I said, Oh, this is what I want to do. And then the family business took over and that that goal was sort of put aside. And as I said, I was my father’s succession plan. And very abruptly and tragically, my father passed away very young. He was 45. He was diagnosed with a brain tumor on Friday, and he died on Sunday.
Jerri Hemsworth 7:38
Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me.
Kim Millman 7:39
Yeah, it was a very unbelievable circumstance. And so, my mother was a mess. And my sister and I were trying to keep my mother together and try to keep the business going. And I was 23. And I was the CFO. Because that was my position.
Jerri Hemsworth 7:59
And did you know what you were doing?
Kim Millman 8:01
I did. I mean, to a certain extent. I mean, my father was self taught. My father was an engineer by training, but my father was running the business. And he had taught me from the time I was probably 12 or 13. I was running the books. He was a great teacher. And I had sort of a natural affinity to contracts and negotiations like that. So I sort of stepped into that role. And I just, I just did it. I mean, yeah, you do what you got to do. So over the years, the business was always in apparel, specifically, accessories, and we always sold to the junior market.
Jerri Hemsworth 8:46
And direct mail catalog?
Kim Millman 8:48
No, no, not at that time. In the beginning stages we were what was called a jobber. Okay, jobbers don’t exist anymore. But what jobbers did is they were a middleman between large manufacturers and individual mom and pop dress shops. And we had thousands of dress shops around the country. We had sales reps around the country, and we were the middleman. And over time, the economy changed, mom and pop dress shops went out of business. And the rise of the malls happened. And every store was in every mall. So then rather than have little stores all over the place, you had one store that was in 200 places or 500 places. And these are names that you grew up with. Judy’s, Contempo Casuals, 579, Petris, Gantos. And we also sold to all the department stores. So Nordstrom’s and Macy’s and Sears and I mean, everybody. But those type of people, they don’t need the middleman. Now you go direct. So then we became domestic manufacturers. So we designed the product and we made it so then we went from having sources out all over the place that we’re buying that we’re buying from to turning into a factory. One of our competitors went out of business. I negotiated, I bought their whole factory, I bought all of their equipment, I bought all of their employees, I move them into our building, and we were domestic manufacturers. And then the economy got even worse, and domestic manufacturing became impossible. Partially because labor laws and labor costs were too high. But more importantly, we sold a product that was not particularly liked by Cal OSHA. You can’t do metal work, you can’t do leather dyeing. And we sold primarily belts and hats and small leather goods. That’s accessories, and you can’t make earrings, and even things that weren’t particularly metal had metal parts, like a belt buckle. So all of a sudden, you couldn’t make anything locally either. So, we had our clients and my family’s motto was hard workers, fast learners. Okay, so what’s to do, we went to China. So we again, designed the product here, had them manufactured in China, we did that for several years, had everything brought in that way. And then by this time, it was 1996. And in 1996, in the first six months, six of our major customers declared bankruptcy at the same time. And each one of those bankruptcies was between 200-4,000 stores. So those bankruptcies were enough to wipe us off the planet really for forever. So, but we had one customer who was doing gangbuster business, they would do a test order of 300 pieces. And two days later, they’re by 300 and two days after that buy another 3000. And they were doing business because they had developed a business model that had never been done before, which was direct marketing to teen girls. The company is called Delia’s. And they literally unleashed a whole new concept. And we looked at them and we said, you know, one of the reasons we never went retail before is because brick and mortar is really hard to do. Right? You have to have all the places and all the leases and you can’t do that. So but we’re sitting in our building, and we could we could put out a catalog. At that point, my mother retired and what I missed in the story is over those years, my sister had gotten married and her husband came into the business and I had gotten married and my husband came into the business. So it was all four of us were running it.
Jerri Hemsworth 10:59
What about your children?
Kim Millman 12:47
When we started girlfriends, my oldest son was in junior high or middle school and my little ones were in, they must have been in preschool. Then I got my timing wrong. My older one would have been in grade school got my little one would have been in preschool. Okay. They were there five years apart. Yeah, they were little kids. So we decided to start the catalog. We were going to sort of emulate the way Delia’s had done it. So but we were at our core, we were manufacturers, and when we sold everything that we had made before it was all private label. So if you went into contempo, it said contempo. Right. And if you went into Judy’s, it said Judy’s, but it was all us. So we knew how to make things but we didn’t have a brand. Right. So we hired a graphic artist. She designed the brand first I actually came up with the name “Girlfriend’s,” but “Girlfriend’s” was taken. So that became “Girlfriend’s” LA, which is we kind of marketed as a California look. And we took the product that we had made for other people, we put the “Girlfriend’s” brand on it. And we ran a full page ad in “Seventeen” Magazine. Which I want to say it was probably $35,000.
Jerri Hemsworth 14:06
A great circulation.
Kim Millman 14:08
Well, yes. I don’t know what it is now. I’m sure it’s still, it was probably the number one teen magazine at the time. Yeah, it probably still is, and “Seventeen” is from like the 40s. So so the ad said you could buy product directly off the ad or you could call for catalog. So I don’t know the sales off the ad were but the day the ad hit, which was in October of ’96, we got 6000 phone calls the first day. We were severely understaffed. We did not have anything ready for that. We had seven employees and four phone lines. And yeah, totally blown out of the water. We actually got our first catalog out for Christmas of that season. Although our delivery was terrible. We were totally understocked and understaffed. But there’s a couple funny stories about that. So again, this is before the internet, so mail order was really mail order. They sent you an envelope with a check in it. So we had gotten a PO box to take the mail in. So then the PO Box was on the way between our houses and the factory. So my sister and I drive to work. We looked at the post office, see what’s there. So we open the mailbox, there’s like four envelopes. Oh, how exciting. So we do this every day. And there’s like four envelopes, and then there’s like seven envelopes and there’s like 20 envelopes, and then there’s a key and I go Oh, what’s the key mean? Actually, it wasn’t a key, it was a piece of paper. Yeah, so I go to the front desk. I go this was in my PO Box. What does this mean? And the guy looks at it and goes “Oh, you’re “Girlfriend’s!” Comes back, brings me a mail sorting tray, full. And it got to the point where there was like 20, 30 sorting trays, it was insane. It was crazy. And the funny thing is that I said you know we need to have a letter opener in the car so we can open it and read the letters on the way into work. And then we got these nice trays. Very nice. So again like I said the family model is “hard workers, fast learners.” We instantly rearranged ourselves. We by nature were hands on. So we built a call center, we staffed it, we built it. It had 16 stations, everything in house, we converted what had been an empty room at the warehouse, we build a call center there. We staffed it 24/7, but we also had an overflow call center in another place. We brought in warehouse staff for packing and picking, or picking and packing and shipping. And we stayed in that building. That building was about 13,000 square feet. And that was where we were when we had the factory. Okay, so that did not work for the for “Girlfriend’s.” It was way too small. So we ended up buying another building, about 40,000 square feet. And by sheer luck, it was right next to a post distributions center. It was in Valencia. We ended up running “Girlfriend’s” for about six years. We sold it in March of 2002 to a competitor. And at the time we sold it, we had a little over 200 employees. We had a database of about eight and a half million teenage girls, and we were producing 30 million catalogs a year. Then I went…it was like hitting a brick wall. I was working 24/7. And I still had kids and they weren’t set.
Jerri Hemsworth 14:32
Kim Millman 14:50
Yes. Yeah. And so when we sold when we sold, well, I have an older one and I have twins. And when we sold “Girlfriend’s,” the twins were in second grade, okay. And I, I all of a sudden realized, you know, I can do whatever I want to do. I can go to law school. I can be a lawyer here because it’d been put on hold for 20 something years, but now I had time. Now’s the time. So I made that decision on January 31. And I remember it was January 31 because we sold it in March of 2002. But I had cleanup work at the end and we owned real estate. I had to sell off the real estate. And I had to do the true up on the sale and I had all the taxes and everything. So I finished everything in mid January. And on January 31, I said I’m gonna go to law school. So I go and look up all—
Jerri Hemsworth 18:53
And your husband said?
Kim Millman 18:55
No, my husband said fine. Yeah, my husband was totally fine with that. So and I had no idea what law school is gonna be. I mean, law school. How hard could it be? Right.
Jerri Hemsworth 19:03
But you got into Pepperdine law.
Kim Millman 19:05
So what happened is I went online. There’s five local law schools that are ABA law schools. And so I went on all of their websites, and their applications for all of them was due the same day, February 1. So I said, well, this is not gonna work. So I decided and I had to take the LSAT and I had to do stuff. So I decided to apply the next year. I spent that one year, I practice for the for the LSAT and I self studied and I tried to be a PTA mom and I helped my kids classrooms. And I did all the stuff that people who have time to do things in their children’s lives, which I had ignored for most of their lives. So I did that. And well actually I take that back. Right after the sale closed, I slept for a week. Because that was an unbelievable experience. And so then when I did decide to go to law school, I did go to Pepperdine. I loved Pepperdine. I loved law school. I thought this was awesome. It was stimulating.
Jerri Hemsworth 20:19
Did you remember being 10 years old and going into that courthouse and going “Wow, okay.” ?
Kim Millman 20:24
You know, the funniest thing is, what happened is as a result of having the company, we had been involved in lots of litigation, various types of litigation. So my, my quest for being in a courtroom went away. I’m done. Yeah, I had no interest in having anything to do with litigation, but my quest for law and negotiations, and working with people and, and tax planning all that, that became very important to me. Okay. So when I was in law school, I discovered that estate planning was a perfect complement for what I had done.
Jerri Hemsworth 21:03
And you had experienced the loss of your father.
Kim Millman 21:05
Right. And, and my father, partially because he had died so young, was thoroughly… there was nothing There was no estate plan of any kind. On my father’s desk was a little, this before post it notes, but there was a little note taped to his lamp: “do will.” So yeah, my first experience with anything to do with an estate plan of any kind was what happens when you don’t have one. And it was, it was a mess. I mean, it was a mess, for a whole bunch of reasons. And again, dealing with my mother, who was I mean, they had been dating since my mother was 10. And my father was 11. Devistated. So and the circumstances of his death was just so horrible. So I decided in law school that this was my calling. This was a perfect fit for me. I could work with business owners, I could work with families, I could do tax planning, I could do projections, I could do succession planning, I’ve always been extremely philanthropic. So I could do charitable planning, it was a perfect fit. So and on a somewhat selfish side thing too, estate planning doesn’t have the kind of oversight from the court, and it doesn’t have the timelines and the end the deadlines. So I didn’t want to do that either. I had lived that life. I wanted to be able to pick the client and pick the situations and do what I was best at.
Jerri Hemsworth 22:36
What a great advantage that you had then, because that you had had your first career and experienced all that so that when you did go to law school, you were that much wiser and you knew what you didn’t want.
Kim Millman 22:49
So that’s a great point for being a lawyer. It doesn’t work so well for being a law student. Because when you’re a student, law school really wants an untouched brain. I mean, I had a very hard start to my law school career because A) I hadn’t been a student for 20 years, more than that, 25 years. So I’m walking in like him in 1985. So I walk in with my spiral notebooks, you know, I’m sitting there waiting to take notes. And everybody around me has got their laptop. I’m going “How do you listen in type at the same time?” And I did everything by the book, because that’s what I was taught. So the professor said, you know, read 27 cases and brief them. So I’m like typing 10-page briefs. And I’m, I’m sitting in class every day and I’m writing notes and then I go home and I’m transcribing my notes because how else am I gonna get them into my computer? And law school, the first year, you can’t control your schedule, they do it for you. So Pepperdine’s plan was you have six classes, then you’re in a section of 80 people that all have the same six classes and you have no control over when they are or what they are or what they’re doing. So I’m literally working insane amounts. I mean, insane amount of hours just to stay on top of things.
Jerri Hemsworth 24:09
Did you ever see your babie,s your kids?
Kim Millman 24:11
You know, it’s really funny. To this day, we’ll be sitting around having a family dinner or something or other and somebody will say “Do you remember when we did this” and they’ll all start talking about it and I’ll have like a dead expression. And they’ll look at each other and go “law school years.” So yes, I lost I lost him serious family time. And and I decided that I couldn’t continue like that. That was just, I was going to have a heart attack. So I decided to go to summer school, the summer between my first year my second year. And while I was in summer school, I discovered that there were two things you could do: A) if I went to summer school, both summers between one and two and two and three. That’s basically a lot of classes out of the way, or a lot of units out of the way. And Pepperdine, I don’t know if other schools do this, but Pepperdine offered classes in either three unit versions or four unit versions. So if you take all the four-unit versions, you end up lopping off one or two classes. So by sheer luck for me, all the classes that I was good in were four-unit classes. So people people don’t like those four units because if you do poorly in him, it trashes your GPA. But for me, Wills and Trust was a four unit class. Income Tax was a four unit class. Conversely, evidence was a four-unit class. And I wasn’t touching that one. But what happened is, so I did the four-unit classes, and I took the summer school, both summers, and I ended up graduating a semester early. So I literally slowed myself down to the point of speeding myself up. And then I realized, okay, I know how to run a business. And I’ve been to law school, but I have no idea how to be a lawyer. because law school teaches you how to be a law student. It doesn’t teach you how to actually practice law.
Jerri Hemsworth 25:59
But you had run a business before. So you knew about insurance, you knew about accounting and books.
Kim Millman 26:07
Right. Right. And again, I was a CFO. So I know all the back end. So I went and I, I went to go look for a job. And I ended up working for an attorney who is a small law, sole practitioner, specialized in high net worth planning, brilliant attorney, really nice guy. Taught me everything of how to be a lawyer. And he was a mentor. And a lot of of sole practitioners don’t do that, because they’re afraid the underling is going to steal their business. But No, he didn’t. He had me sit in on client meetings, he had me go to presentations, he was awesome. And I would have stayed with him, because it was a great deal. But the economy turned again. I’m technically class of 2007. But I graduated in 2006, because of that semester thing. So I started working for him in 2007. And then the economy went in 2008. And then in 2010, that was the year where there was no estate tax. So between the economy being terrible, and the laws being totally uncertain, there was nothing to do.
Jerri Hemsworth 27:17
That was about the time that I met you.
Kim Millman 27:20
And we were networking together.
Jerri Hemsworth 27:22
Right, which was also his suggestion. And you went out on your own. And so I want to fast forward to today. If a client was to say, the best thing you do for them is?
Kim Millman 27:44
So that’s hard. I if you were to actually interview my clients, the answer that they would probably give you is: I understand them. I listened to them, I understand them. I correct them from making mistakes. I put together teams for their benefit. And that goes back more so on the trust administration side. Because when someone passes away, especially if they die, either suddenly or like I said before, in a disorganized manner, you need a team. Yeah, you need to find a CPA, you need to find a financial planner, you need to find an appraiser, you need to find a realtor. So the ability to network and find all those people has been amazing. Amazing.
Jerri Hemsworth 28:36
And I bet because of everything you’ve been through in your life, business owner, Mom, law school, everything and and the loss of your father. I have to believe you bring a soft gentleness to your clients because you understand them and you understand the grief and some of the things they’re going through.
Kim Millman 29:03
Yeah, I think that’s probably true. Yeah, I think that’s right, that if you ask them, I think that’s what they would most likely think. Because I picked the profession avoiding the confrontation. And the aggression. I mean, there are many, many really talented probate litigators out there. And when I have a client, I go back to the one with the with the three checks. I brought in a litigator, because we had to do something on that, and it wasn’t gonna be me. So I team up and I’m I have this great ability to do that, from all of the people I’ve met over the years since I’ve been on my own. And it’s really, really helpful.
Jerri Hemsworth 29:44
You are really one of the more unique attorneys I’ve ever met. I think, I feel really confident in your ability, because of your history and what you’ve done in your life.
Kim Millman 30:00
Well, thank you.
Jerri Hemsworth 30:01
I just think that’s it. I like like minded people. And I think you’re one of those.
Kim Millman 30:07
Well, I think it’s also something to: I’m very detail oriented. And I get into the weeds. And that’s important when you’re trying to find things.
Jerri Hemsworth 30:17
But you’re not afraid to get into the weeds either.
Kim Millman 30:20
No, as long as there’s no fighting.
Jerri Hemsworth 30:25
No boxing gloves.
Kim Millman 30:26
Right, because that’s a whole nother personality type. I didn’t want to do that.
Jerri Hemsworth 30:31
You’ve got too big of a heart. Kim, thank you for being with me today.
Kim Millman 30:36
Thank you for having me.
Jerri Hemsworth 30:37
I’m so glad you’re here.
Kim Millman 30:38
This is great. Thanks.
Jerri Hemsworth 30:48
Presented by Echelon Business Development. More than just networking. Way more.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai