Marty Roos is an equity partner with Strasburger & Price, LLP, one of the largest law firms in Texas with offices in Dallas, Houston, Austin and San Antonio and satellite offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Mexico City. With 25 years of experience, he focuses on estate planning, probate and estate administration, assisting clients with a broad range of estate issues. Prior to 2011, Roos was a partner and CEO of Oppenheimer, Blend, Harrison and Tate, Inc., a prominent local firm that merged with Strasburger & Price that year. The combined practice is often called just Strasburger.
During his career, Roos has won a great deal of professional recognition, including being named one of Texas Super Lawyers by the Thomson Reuters rating service for a number of years. He is also the recipient of the 2010 Outstanding Lawyer Award (estate planning) awarded by the San Antonio Business Journal.
Why did you choose to specialize in estate-related law?
When I first started practicing 25 years ago, I was in our creditor rights group because bankruptcy was a heavy practice back then. I didn’t like it that much. Estate planning was something I had always wanted to move into because I like helping people. In this type of law you get to know the clients and help them arrange their affairs. So to me it was a more satisfying practice.
Could you briefly define what estate planning, probate and estate administration entail?
Estate planning is of concern to someone creating a last will or a revocable trust to determine how their assets will be distributed at their death. It may also entail setting up a trust for children or grandchildren, and we deal a lot with family limited partnerships, as well. Furthermore, we deal with what happens if a person is still alive but incapacitated.
Probate involves proving the validity of the will and putting the will in the county records when the person passes away. Texas is one of the easiest states to probate in. If the will is drawn up properly, the executor of the will should be able to manage it without much supervision from the court. Once the will is probated, estate administration is about paying the final debts and expenses, filing the final tax return and then distributing the assets according to the will.
Do you handle only estates above a certain value, or does it matter?
In my practice it doesn’t matter. I would rather make sure that somebody who needs a will gets one properly drawn regardless of whether they have $10,000 or $50 million. The type of will will change depending on the nature of the assets and the size of the estate, but we deal with all kinds of clients. We have a lot of young clients who need to appoint guardians for minor children, for instance, and older clients looking to pass down their assets to their children in a most tax-efficient way. That’s what I like — every client is different.
Do most people have a will?
No. There’s often a notion that they don’t need it because they don’t have enough assets, or it’s just one of those things that it’s easy to procrastinate on getting done, but I always tell clients that it’s much easier to have a will than to go through the probate process without one and rely on the Texas statute to determine how the assets will be distributed. We work on a flat fee basis in this area, so clients know going into it what the cost will be.
How much does probate cost?
The nice thing in Texas is that it doesn’t matter if it’s a $100,000 or a $20 million estate; the cost of probate is the same. The typical probate would be in the range of $1,500 to $2,500 plus filing fees.
What other legal documents would you advise people to have?
The other documents I advise people to have are important if you become incapacitated: a statutory power-of-attorney (for someone to make financial decision on your behalf), a medical power-of-attorney (for medical care decisions), and a living will or directive to physicians (regarding end-of-life care). If you don’t have them, a guardian will be appointed by the court with a lot of court supervision, a very expensive process.
Tell us about the program you developed that provides low-cost estate planning to employees of various companies.
We started with Valero in the mid-1990s. They offered will packages as part of their flexible spending for employees, and it was a great success. Since then, other corporations have taken advantage of the program, including H-E-B and AT&T. We make it as convenient as possible for the employees. We go in there and educate them on the basics and give them a questionnaire to complete. Then we prepare drafts (of the will) for each employee and meet them again at the corporate site for them to review and sign the documents. At Valero we had will-signing days when employees and their spouses came in and did the will-signing. We did 1,700 wills in a three-month period.
What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
My greatest accomplishment is becoming CEO of Oppenheimer, Blend, Harrison & Tate prior to our merger with Strasburger… In that position, I also oversaw the merger. It was a detailed and complex transaction, but it was satisfying to see it through to completion.
You have been involved with a number of charitable/community organizations. Which cause is close to your heart right now?
My children (laughs). Really, I am spending more time with them. I used to be on a lot of boards — Big Brothers Big Sisters, for example; I was very passionate about it, served on the board for six year and went all the way to president, and I still support that organization. I have been involved in a lot of Jewish charities as well, such as the Jewish Community Center and the Jewish Federation, and my wife and I are both involved in Temple Beth-El. All three of our kids are active there, and that’s where we spend a lot of our time. Otherwise, I am the chauffeur and the cheerleader for our three children, attending their events and supporting their activities, which I love.
What do you like to do when you are not working and not hanging out with the kids?
Probably some form of exercise. I like doing spin class, and I am addicted to a new exercise place called Orangetheory. It’s a 60-minute circuit-training workout. It’s a lot of fun. I also love to read.
What book are you reading now?
My favorite book of all time is To Kill a Mockingbird, so I am reading Go Set a Watchman, the “new” book by Harper Lee. It’s a great book, but it doesn’t match Mockingbird. My favorite characters, Atticus and Scout, are very different in this book. My wife is reading The Martian, and that will be my next book. I also love to cook, by the way. My mom was a caterer, so she taught us how to cook before we went to college. Sundays are my days to cook.
Mr. Roos’ comments have been edited for space and clarity.
BY JASMINA WELLINGHOFF
PHOTOS BY JANET ROGERS