Helping families through challenging times: 10 questions for estate-planning attorney Patricia Vargas
Family is at the heart of Patricia “Patty” Rouse Vargas’s work. A shareholder at Davis & Santos, P.C., Vargas is one of San Antonio’s premier lawyers in the area of estate planning and probate—ensuring the security of clients and their loved ones.
Vargas is board certified in Estate Planning and Probate Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, and she focuses on estate planning, probate, trust formation and management, family wealth transfers, guardianships, and special needs trusts. She is also on the Board of Directors of the San Antonio Estate Planners Council and on the Board of Directors for the San Antonio Bar Association.
She brings her unique talents to an already expert roster of trial attorneys at Davis & Santos, P.C., which includes her husband and fellow shareholder Santos Vargas. Together, the firm has earned a statewide reputation for successfully helping their clients and their families when they need it the most.
1. What sort of education did you go through to get here?
I attended St. Mary’s University School of Law. As an attorney who is board certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, I am required to complete 100 hours of accredited continuing legal education in estate planning and probate law every five years. Additionally, I am required to maintain my certification to represent potential wards or applicants in guardianship proceedings, which requires an additional four hours of accredited continuing legal education in specified areas of guardianship law.
In addition to my formal education, it is often the day-to-day issues I help clients with and my interaction with colleagues that enables me to continually develop my skills as an attorney.
2. Why did you decide to go into estate planning and probate law?
Early in my career, I was fortunate to have incredible mentors who focused on estate planning and probate law. I learned from them and I saw the positive impact my legal work had on my clients’ lives. That made my decision to focus on estate planning and probate very easy.
3. What’s your favorite part of the job?
I often find that once a client executes the estate planning documents that we have tailored to their needs, they feel a great deal of relief in having their affairs in order. Both personally and professionally, it is a privilege to help my clients achieve this feeling.
4. What are some of the challenges you face?
When the proper planning has not been done, it can sometimes be a challenge to help family members understand the limited options that remain. It can also sometimes be difficult for clients to understand the additional time, cost, and expense they will incur because the necessary documents were not prepared in advance. Fortunately, there is a solution to any problem. However, the best practice is to have the proper estate planning documents in place so that family members do not have to deal with these issues at greater expense later on.
5. How do you bring an innovative approach to handling these challenges?
Education is key, and I am passionate about providing meaningful and helpful information to my clients. When explaining the importance of estate planning documents, I strive to find innovative ways to describe the purpose of each document and the reasons why the client may want to execute such documents in a way that is easy for my clients to understand. This allows the client to make informed and well-thought-out decisions.
In probate matters, it is critical that my client understands the administration process whether they are a beneficiary of the estate or are serving as the executor or administrator of the estate. In my probate practice, I strive to avoid conflicts during the administration of an estate by providing this information to my client in order to address my client’s questions or concerns before they arise.
6. What’s it like working closely with your husband?
After years of being asked whether Santos and I worked together and responding “no,” it is a privilege and honor to have joined as a shareholder and to now answer “yes.” When our practice areas merge, such as with contested probate, trust, or guardianship matters, it is exciting for me to assist him with legal arguments, given my background and depth of knowledge in this subject area.
7. How important are professional relationships in building a firm like Davis & Santos?
It is the cornerstone of our firm. Each one of the partners joined based upon prior work experiences each had with one or more of the partners prior to joining the firm. Thus, before joining the firm, each of us knew the personal and professional character of the other partners, which is critical when forming and growing a law firm. With this history, we strive to cultivate a law firm that is able to meet the legal needs of our clients in a variety of practice areas with the confidence that we can rely upon one another when another partner’s experience benefits our clients.
8. In estate planning, you work with other families on some of the most important decisions they’ll ever make. What’s rewarding about that?
Whether I am drafting estate planning documents or assisting a family with the administration of an estate following the death of a loved one, the emotional impact for a client can be significant. Helping my clients navigate what can often be an emotional and confusing life event is one of my responsibilities as their attorney. Seeing the sense of relief that appears on a client’s face once I have successfully helped them with their matter is incredibly rewarding to me on both a professional and personal level.
9. What do you do to stay active in the legal community, and why is that important?
I am very active in the San Antonio Estate Planners Council and serve as the chair for the Docket Call Seminar that is held every two years. At this two-day seminar, we provide educational programming in a variety of subject matters, including estate planning, probate, trusts, guardianships, and elder law. Serving as the chair enables me to interact with my professional peers and to learn more about their practices, which in turn helps to develop and hone my skills as an attorney. I also serve on the Board of Directors for the San Antonio Bar Association, which enables me, as one of the few transactional attorneys on the board, to bring this perspective to the programs, benefits, and opportunities the Bar Association offers to its members.
10. How do you stay in touch with the San Antonio community at large?
Staying connected with the San Antonio community in which I grew up is critical to understanding the needs of my clients and the families that I serve. My husband and I are very active at the school attended by our children and at our church. We both volunteer as coaches and participate in classroom events and activities. Meeting parents and learning about their struggles and successes helps me to relate to my clients as I am able to gain an appreciation of the many pressures and joys my clients may face.