Today, I interview Paul Hood who describes his childhood household as “quiet, non-controversial, and easy”. Maintaining privacy and avoiding conflict were the M.O. His father was a CPA and introduced him to a colleague who was both a CPA and a lawyer, and at age ten Paul decided that this was the combination he would strive for. He graduated with a master’s in tax law and was mentored in estate planning, in which he landed a successful job at a great firm.
At age 38, he was nationally nominated for an ACTEC fellowship– something unheard of for someone so young– and became a reputable speaker. Then, he stood his ground in a disagreement within a social organization for which he was treasurer. He lost the battle and was blacklisted in the community. Not long after, his wife of ten years decided she wanted a divorce.
Paul loved his work, but he was experiencing burnout. He would later be diagnosed as bipolar. Then, after some deception by his clients regarding an estate matter, the tables turned and Paul’s handling of the case was regarded as unethical, and he eventually received a suspension from the bar. His friends and colleagues abandoned him, he was struggling with his custody battle, and after much anxiety, he’d become addicted to Xanax. And finally, after a heartbreaking misunderstanding with his family, an altercation went terribly wrong. His world was crumbling and he attempted suicide.
He realized that “suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” He was determined to climb out of the empty hole his life had become. He has completed rehabilitation and worked to be reinstated. He encourages others never to stop believing in themselves, and that when we don’t have anyone in our corner, we have to be our own strength. He believes his inner voice carried him through.
A native of Louisiana (and a double LSU Tiger), Paul Hood obtained his undergraduate and law degrees from Louisiana State University and an LL.M. in taxation from Georgetown University Law Center before settling down to practice tax and estate planning law in the New Orleans area. Paul has taught at the University of New Orleans, Northeastern University, The University of Toledo College of Law, and Ohio Northern University Pettit College of Law.
Paul has authored or co-authored nine books and over 500 professional articles on estate, charitable and tax planning, and business valuation. Paul’s ninth book, Yours, Mine & Ours: Estate Planning for People in Blended or StepFamilies, is now out. A “recovering tax lawyer” and frequent contributor to Leimberg Information Services since its inception, Paul is a highly sought-after speaker and consultant because of his innate ability to see through the complexity and explain difficult and even boring subjects in understandable and entertaining language with his insightful and biting sense of humor, and he minces no words in doing so.
Along the way, Paul’s been a father, husband, uncle, Godfather, lawyer, trustee, member, director, president, partner, trust protector, director of planned giving, expert witness, agent, professor, judge, juror, respondent, and a defendant, and he uses his experience in these myriad roles to guide others. Paul is an author, speaker, and consultant on tax, estate, and charitable planning. He also is a Vice-President with Thompson & Associates, a charitable estate planning firm.
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Transcript of Interview
Find Your Voice, Change Your Life Podcast
Podcast Host: Dr. Doreen Downing
Free Guide to Fearless Speaking: Doreen7steps.com
Episode #62 Paul Hood
“Rebuilding Through Humility, Hard Work, & Acceptance”
(0:35) Dr. Doreen Downing
Hi, I’m Dr. Doreen Downing, and I’m the host of the Find Your Voice, Change Your Life podcast. I’ve been a psychologist for 45 years of me, believe it or not. And now at this stage in my life, I am bringing all of that kind of listening I’ve done in my office to my podcast guests. I love to create a safe space for them to dip down into something that oh maybe might be harder to reveal in public, but they finally get to tell the truth, the truth of their story. And today I have a very special guest who is somebody I’ve met recently, and I’m so excited to hear his story about having lost his voice. And this is Paul Hood. Hi, Paul.
(1:27) Paul Hood
Hi, Dr. Doreen. How are you?
(1:29) Dr. Doreen Downing
Oh, it’s a wonderful day here in California. Excellent. And where are you from?
(1:36) Paul Hood
Well, while it appears that I am at the beach, that is wishful thinking, I’m in Sylvania, Ohio. Ah, but being a Louisiana native, I spent a lot of time on the beach in the Florida Panhandle. And in Orange Beach, Alabama. So the beach was not an unfamiliar place for me to be.
(2:07) Dr. Doreen Downing
Oh, well, I’m glad you’re in a setting, at least a video background there that brings good memories back to you. Hopefully, if not, well…
(2:17) Paul Hood
Oh no, it does.
(2:18) Dr. Doreen Downing
Good. Yes. I see the smile on your face. Let me tell the folks who are listening something about you. Paul is an author, speaker, and consultant on tax, estate, and charitable planning. He is also a Vice President with Thomson and Associates, a charitable estate planning firm. And Paul, you’ve written or co-authored nine books, and the ninth one is just out and it’s called, “Yours, Mine and Ours: estate planning for people in blended or stepfamilies.” And I just want to give people your website right here is paulhoodservices.com. But there’s something you also wrote to me and I want to say it, it’s going to take a couple of breaths here, but you are a father, a husband, an uncle, a godfather, a lawyer, a trustee, a member, a director, a president, a partner, trust protector, Director of Planned Giving, expert witness, agent, Professor, Judge, Juror, respondent, and a defendant. And he uses his experiences in these myriad roles to guide others. And I am so glad we set up this conversation so that we can get started on you taking the stage to share your story.
(3:55) Paul Hood
Well, thank you. Looking forward to it.
(3:57) Dr. Doreen Downing
Usually, it is about finding your voice or losing your voice or never having had a voice and finally finding it. Let’s just start with the sense of what happened to you that you feel like either you didn’t have a voice or you lost it.
(4:16) Paul Hood
Well, there were a number of factors that kind of operated simultaneously. But the seeds were sown years before. A bad marriage decision. It was one of them. A decision to elope was another, and then a decision to leave a law firm to go solo with a four-month-old and while I was strong enough, client-wise there’s a lawyer to handle all that. Eventually, because the marriage wasn’t right, it eventually broke down. It kind of operated like hyenas attacking a lion. If a bunch of them jump on the lion’s back and they’re all clawing, eventually, they’re going to take him to the ground. And that’s what happened to me. That’s essentially what happened.
(5:32) Dr. Doreen Downing
Well, that’s a broad and dramatic picture that you’ve just painted. And we’ll go into some of the details if you’re willing, which I invited you to do. But you’re right. You’re right about life having roots to whatever is eventually happening to us. We can most likely trace back to decisions earlier in our life, or even earlier when we have parents that make decisions for us. So I don’t know if there’s any early childhood history or a story you want to tell about your childhood to get us started.
(6:16) Paul Hood
I think other than controversy was disfavored in our household. Privacy was encouraged. No discussion was really encouraged. It was pretty much let’s keep things quiet, non-controversial, and easy. And that was what it was.
(6:53) Dr. Doreen Downing
Well, isn’t that fascinating that no controversy, and yet later on in life, you became a lawyer, which to me feels like it’s, it’s all about stepping into controversy.
(7:07) Paul Hood
Well in your role as a psychologist, when people would sit next to me on airplanes, and ask me the invariable, well, what do you do for a living? As an estate planner, I normally would tell them, that I practice psychotherapy without a license. And I told them that because, in my experience, estate planning is one of the rawest experiences that a client can go through. When they think about their own mortality when they’re thinking about what’s best long-term for their families. They’re uncomfortable with it. And they don’t like doing it, they put it off. But they also do things that I wasn’t prepared for in law school. And part of it goes to what I call the love scoreboard. How you come out in your parents’ will is your final grade. And I had three different clients who were magnets of industry in the New Orleans area, worth 10s of millions of dollars, dwarfing their parents, and each one of these people had a problem because their parents, in one situation I’m thinking about, have four siblings, $200,000 stayed between the parents. They left him $25,000. They divided the extra 25 Among the other three. He actually asked me, Do you think my parents only loved me half as much. And he was in tears. And I’m sitting there thinking I shouldn’t have spent all that time in the business school. I should have been over in the liberal arts education, getting some schooling in psychology.
(9:25) Dr. Doreen Downing
Now I understand what you’re saying there because you’re dealing with people and emotions and big decisions that actually create reactions. I have a question though when you become a lawyer because that’s when my sense of you not being able to step into controversy. And then you became a lawyer. When did you first practice law? What were you out there doing? Was it estate and planning?
(9:53) Paul Hood
Oh, no. I decided at age 10 that I was going to be a tax lawyer and an estate planner. And it’s because my father, who was a CPA, introduced me to a local lawyer, who also had his CPA. He said, “That’s a good combination, Paul. Think about the future.” I thought it sounded cool. And I was 10 years old. So when I went to law school, I had zero interest in courses like criminal law, bankruptcy, constitutional law, tell me about estate and gift tags, successions and donations, trusts, and estates. That’s what I wanted. And I went on and got a master’s in tax law from Georgetown. And was taught estate planning by one of my three mentors. Eventually, three mentors. Came back to New Orleans. Got a topflight, estate planning job in a firm where scholarship was expected from the beginning. And just dove right into it. And so I was always focused on that.
(11:30) Dr. Doreen Downing
Good. I wasn’t quite clear, because I think maybe I just had this stereotype of a lawyer, being somebody who has to get into a fight,
(11:38) Paul Hood
To be honest with you, many lawyers who are litigators, detest litigation, they simply do it because their lifestyle. They’ve allowed themselves to get to the level of their income and they don’t have a way out. They can’t go do something else. So they end up doing something they hate. And it comes out sideways. You see it in alcoholism, drug abuse, depression, and suicide. All these problems are bigger in the legal profession than in the average population. And that’s a big reason why.
(12:31) Dr. Doreen Downing
Good, good point. My nephew is a lawyer. And I remember when he was a young kid, 10 years old, and he would fight with his father. And he would go up into his room and turn up the music so loud, that his father would say, shut up, stop that music. And I would go up and listen to the music with him. And so that that conflict early on with his dad was like, to me, when I look back on it now on him as an adult, that was kind of a training ground for him to be somebody who could stand up to somebody who seemed to have more power than he had. But anyway, that was just a little piece of my story about lawyers.
I want to get back to something happened. I’m really glad that I’ve got this background in how much you loved estate planning. You got into this firm, and then the story you just told about your telling people that you should have studied psychology, because estate planning is really about human beings and choices and emotions. And so go back to what happened? What fell apart or what…
(13:49) Paul Hood
Well in 1998, when I was 38 years old, I was elected fellow in the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel. The average age of a newly elected fellow is over 51. So I was way early. And that is a national nomination. And it is, I mean, they demand serious scholarship and speaking from their people. So I’m an ACTEC fellow at 38. I’ve spoken at Georgetown, at Duke, and then all the local schools, Tulane University in New Orleans. And the marriage, well, a social organization that I was a treasurer of, there was a political battle. And I always stand up for principle. But in my case, I lost and so I got voted out and essentially blackballed from New Orleans’ society. Not being a New Orleanian, I was not as they would say to the man are born. But I had risen in the city to some levels, and was a member of several cardinal organizations. And I’m president of one of the four downtown men’s lunch clubs.
(15:41) Paul Hood
In 2001, this happened. And I’m like, I quit. I quit.
(15:50) Dr. Doreen Downing
Paul, before you go on. I really wanted if you’re able to tell me a little bit more about the detail, what was the conflict?
(16:01) Paul Hood
I believe that the leadership was engaged in some activity that I did not think, in fact, I was pretty sure was not in the long-term best interests of the organization. And that there was some self-help involved. And they were benefiting some of the members impermissibly. These are nonprofit corporations.
(16:31) Dr. Doreen Downing
Okay, I think I understand a little bit more. Something happening behind the scenes that you were aware of.
(16:38) Paul Hood
Exactly. And so this falls apart. And then ’03, Lynne and I had been in marital counseling for eight and a half of the 10 years we were married. And I think the event, the social event, followed by coming home one day to find my stuff strewn in the front yard of our cul-de-sac house.
(17:25) Paul Hood
And I was reaching a stage of burnout professionally. I love doing what I was doing. But there were some mental things going on with me that I didn’t fully appreciate. And I wouldn’t until 2005 when I was diagnosed bipolar. And I never had that problem in my life before that time. My maternal grandmother was, as they used to say, back in the day, was manic-depressive.
(18:02) Dr. Doreen Downing
Hey, my mom was diagnosed, and they called it cyclothymic. But you’re right, the kind of high energy and the low energy.
(18:10) Paul Hood
Right. And so there was a matter that I had agreed to handle as an accommodation for a friend for a client. And it dealt with representing her mother and her two sisters dealing with their elderly mother. And I wrote a will. And my client’s mother wanted to make sure she was included as a co-executor. Because she was worried that her two sisters were going to team up on her. She died. And I had my questions about whether the mom fully understood what was going on. But in the end, the estate was being divided equally between the sisters. And they were co-executives.
So I notarized the will and the mom dies about a month later. And they need to get the estate handled. And I get a phone call from one of the top estate lawyers, one of my colleagues representing one of the sisters. And I told her I said Carol there’s not enough here. There’s about $180,000. I think that each sister has managed to worm her way into unauthorized possession of about $60,000 and stuff. I said, so my simple solution is we paper it up. Everybody keeps what they have. And I said I’ll do that for $300 Plus costs.
And Carol says that’s magnanimous of you. And I was doing it as accommodation for my client. Well, the sisters didn’t want to do that. They want to put all everything back and start over. So I didn’t do it because I wasn’t thinking clearly about what I should have done, which was fire them immediately as clients because they didn’t listen to me.
(20:47) Dr. Doreen Downing
And what was the outcome?
(20:50) Paul Hood
I didn’t fire them. I ignored them. And that engendered an ethics complaint against me for delaying the estate. Well, by this time, the ethics complaint is filed. I have what was probably fairly characterized as anxiety, and nervous breakdown, and ended up in a facility in Hattiesburg, Mississippi Pine Grove. Because my therapist, at the time, did art therapy for one of their programs. And she recommended it. So I went there. And I got the complaint. And me being an honest guy, I wrote, I said, “Look, I’m having some problems.” And so immediately, they went to try to put me on disability. And I didn’t want to do that. So they filed a petition for interim suspension based on the threat of harm.
(22:09) Dr. Doreen Downing
Does that mean intermittent suspension from the bar?
(22:13) Paul Hood
Yes, yes. And on January 11, 2006, without having received notice of this petition, or the opportunity to be heard, the Supreme Court issued the order of interim suspension.
(22:37) Dr. Doreen Downing
I have to take a breath here because so much, the marriage, the disbarment that you’re talking about, and also the conflict with the organization that got you blackballed, my dear, that’s a lot. We’re talking about voice and in all these situations, it feels like you don’t have one.
(23:04) Paul Hood
Well, the story actually gets darker. Okay. Now, when I get suspended all of a sudden, all of my national friends in estate planning, all the contacts and people I was writing books for and manuscripts for and being paid a lot of money to write, abandoned me, except for one guy. He let me keep writing. My voice diminished from a leading voice in the country to essentially a disregarded squeak and that’s where I got busted back. In ’06, because I was getting hammered in the child custody, and child support area, I developed a terrible addiction to Xanax. And I found Xanax readily available from overseas pharmacies. And I was unbelievably giving them my credit card. As best as I can count in ’06 and ’07, I spent approximately $30,000 on Xanax.
(24:48) Dr. Doreen Downing
I don’t know if that’s a record but it your sounds like it.
(24:52) Paul Hood
Well, at the end of ‘07 I had a court order that permitted me to tell my boys good night on the phone every night. But every now and then, when I hadn’t done everything she wanted, she would just deny me that right. This one night was different. That’s it. Look, I said, I want to tell the boys that I received a gift today of a Louisville Slugger bat, a wood bat from Louisville, Kentucky. Real bat with my name emblazoned in the wood, like Mickey Mantle, like Ted Williams. And my boys are as big a baseball fan as I was. Permission denied. And I had enough. And I did something stupid. I went to the house because I was a mile away.
And I got out of the car with the bat. Because I was intending to show the boys. The next thing I know, I’m in jail in St. Tammany Parish on a $45,000 bail for felony dangerous assault. Now, I haven’t swung the bat at anybody and would have never, certainly not my kids and even not her.
I was missing for about four days. My parents were calling and I didn’t answer. Finally, on the fourth day, they let me make a call coming from the jail. And I’m screaming behind the operator, mom take the call. And then I tell her what’s happened. And of course, it took my dad a couple of extra days to get down there with $4,500 to bail me out. I ended up in rehab. And it worked. It was a successful deal. But the bottom line was my relationship with my kids was over. Everybody was trying to protect them from this crazy man. Right?
So I attempted suicide in ’06. There were two suicide attempts. One in ’06, like in June or July, and one in ‘07 probably in March. And because my life was just terrible. They have taken away my ability to earn a living. They take away my voice so life was not good.
(28:29) Dr. Doreen Downing
Yeah, I understand. Well, this is truly deep and vulnerable and beautifully real and so real that I feel like the people who might be listening today would say I’ve been there. How can anybody find their way out of it? How do they survive? Here you are years later down the pike and we get to have a conversation with you reflecting back, having made some sense, obviously, of what happened, to tell the truth, to declare the truth. But your story has significance to you. It’s not just oh, that happened. My life is over. It’s like you you’ve gone on. You’re here with me.
(29:27) Paul Hood
Yes, I am. I always was an incurable optimist. And I think that most people who practice law by themselves are that way. I never had problems getting clients or doing work. That was not hard to do. Or getting paid for the work that I did. Every now and then somebody will ask me because I mean, it wasn’t until the second suicide attempt that I’m waking up in the hospital, realizing that I had yet failed again. You can’t even do this right. I didn’t even kill myself right. But what I realized was, that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. That’s what I’ve heard. And once I learned that, that never came up again, and was never an option.
But when you are on what I call the event horizon, of the black hole of suicide, and you cross onto that event horizon, I mean, it’s dark. And there’s really no way out. And you don’t see it. But in the end, I found my way out. Because I was so despondent in the jail, that I threatened suicide there. And so they put me in the suicide cage alone in a pair of gym shorts, in a 40-degree jail.
A day later, somebody at least came in and gave me a bulletproof like armor thing to put around me to give me some warmth. But when I was in the jail, now that I had gone from being one of the most successful well-known estate planning lawyers in the country, at a young age to on the contrary, in jail, in the suicide cage. It was a point where I said, you’re better than this. You’re better than this. I said it might take you a long time. And look it has, I go to rehab in LA. My hearing on my reinstatement. The petition is on July 13 of this year. So it’s been a long time coming. But what I had to do was regain legitimacy as a voice.
And all I did, how I did that was just write the best stuff that was written. Nine books. I got to know Tom Perone, our mutual friend, because Tom Perone came out of nowhere to compliment me, as he says, in the very first post I ever read from Tom Perone about me because I didn’t know him didn’t know who he was. We weren’t connected. He said, Paul Hood might be the best technical estate planning writer in the country, and maybe in the world.
(33:57) Dr. Doreen Downing
What an honor. That’s true. You were seen and heard by one person and that’s the power of you putting yourself out and somebody witnessing you is what I get today.
(34:12) Paul Hood
I just wanted to add one more word. I think that it requires humility, requires hard work. It requires acceptance. Acceptance is a big thing. And you need to accept things the way they are. Not the way you wanted them to be. Not the way you think they should have been. But the way they are.
(35:00) Paul Hood
I always tell people don’t ever quit believing in yourself. Because if you do, everybody else will do. And unless you’ve got that guardian angel Clarence, and It’s a Wonderful Life earning his wings, George Bailey. Unless you’ve got that your strength, in the end, you have to be your strength. So, now that things are going great in every aspect of my life, a lot of it has been dependent on me making good choices and healthy choices. And so that’s involved too, your behavior counts.
(36:19) Dr. Doreen Downing
When you talked about the angels, when you talked about being in the cell, and it felt like there was a voice because there was a transformational moment, a moment that felt like, something turned for you. And it’s like, what they call the small whisper that you listen to the inside of yourself.
(36:44) Paul Hood
Yeah, the voice said, “You’re better than this.”
(36:49) Dr. Doreen Downing
Isn’t that amazing? At a bottom, a life bottom, there’s also a voice. And it’s more than just you being a positive person. It’s like, in your, in your DNA, in our brains, and in our beings is this voice that is always there for us. I mean, some people say it’s religion, but then, the main thing is you Oh, Paul, you listened. I’m better than this. Or the voice was saying, Hey, you, you’re better than this.
(37:23) Paul Hood
And if you think about some people would say, that’s kind of a cruel voice, isn’t it? Like, it’s challenging? You’re better than this, get up?
(37:34) Dr. Doreen Downing
It’s encouraging a different kind of, it’s not a drill sergeant.
(37:40) Paul Hood
It wasn’t. It was a, “You have this. You have this. You’re better than this. Don’t let this be.” I remember as a high school kid athlete growing up in the mid-70s, when coaches would pretty much abuse you, under any circumstances. You’d be doing a drill that was really giving you all you could want. And the coach would walk by and say, don’t let it whip you son. Don’t let it whip you.
(38:29) Dr. Doreen Downing
Yeah. The tapping into inner strength into the voice within then helps you it sounds like gave you hope for the future. But you just had to get up and start moving. And that’s, that’s what you’ve done. We’re coming to the end. And I feel like I want to make sure that the story feels complete to you. How do we bring it to a close so that it feels like we’re…
(39:05) Paul Hood
Actually, I think that I’ve really said what I wanted to say, which was when the chips are down, and things don’t look good. Just always remember, you’re better than that.
(39:30) Dr. Doreen Downing
Beautiful. I so appreciate your voice and resonating out to people to remind them that. Yes, you are. We are always having an opportunity in front of us. No matter what’s behind us. Our vision is if we can look ahead, we see it, we see it and I’m so glad that you, you are who you are, and you’re back in the saddle and get to give all of your gifts that you have obviously, developed over the years. And now the gifts of knowing this different kind of life (put a comma) knowing that you’ve lived not just what you know about estate planning, you know what you know about life?
(40:27) Paul Hood
When I was a kid, my dad, his favorite album, Hank Williams, recorded a number of talking records under an alias, “Luke, the Drifter.” And the drifter was kind of the tip-off because the Hank Williams band was known as the drifting cowboy’s band. And my dad’s favorite song was a song, Put quotes around the song and capitalize words “I’ve een down that road before. And these are dark songs. I mean, one of them was named a funeral. And these are talking songs. And they’re sad. Too many parties. And too many pals. Hank Williams had a real dark side here. They had a religious side to him too.
(41:25) Paul Hood
But I remember listening to that album many days with my dad. And when I hear that song, “I’ve Been Down That Road Before,” which is on all my iPods. And I have a bunch of Hank Williams, but that one is on all of them. I think about that, and I kind of know, I’m kind of a guy who’s been down that road before. Because I’ve kind of been down that road. Like he introduced me. I’ve had a lot of roles. Some great, defendant, respondent, I can pass on those. And be indifferent as to the rest them, including law professor, expert witness, that kind of thing.
(42:19) Paul Hood
But I guess I’ve been around long enough and had the experience and survived it all. And I just give all the honor and credit to Almighty God. Because I wouldn’t have made it here without him.
(42:47) Dr. Doreen Downing
This is amazing to have true life revealed and transformation today that you shared in such a powerful, inspiring story. Thank you so much, Paul.
(43:03) Paul Hood
Thank you, Dr. Doreen. It was a pleasure being on your show.
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Get started now on your journey to your authentic voice by downloading my Free 7 Step Guide to Fearless Speaking: doreen7steps.com.
Get started now on your journey to your authentic voice by downloading my Free 7 Step Guide to Fearless Speaking: doreen7steps.com.