Hardin Lawyer Shepherds 20m in Charitable Contributions

Memphis attorney A. Stephen McDaniel has spent a career writing wills and trusts for both millionaires and those of modest means.

And, it's no surprise that one of the largest estates the Williams McDaniel PLLC partner managed has made a large impact on the city.

McDaniel managed the Helen and Jabie Hardin Charitable Trust of Hardin’s Frozen Foods, which later merged with Sysco Corp. and Tri State General Foods to form one of the largest food service distributors in the MidSouth.

"At their death, they left the bulk of their estate. Over the past eight to 10 years, we've given away close to $20 million," McDaniel said. "That was probably the most fun part of the job. We don't have a lot of money left to give. I wish we could have helped more, but that was the goal, giving it all away."

As the lawyer of the foundation and the board, McDaniel oversaw millions of dollars in charitable contributions to organizations such as the Memphis Zoo, Memphis Botanic Gardens and the University of Memphis.

McDaniel received his undergraduate degree from the University of Memphis in 1968 and went on to graduate from the Cecil C. Humphrey's School of Law in 1973.

He spent a few years working for the IRS before coming back to Memphis in 1975, where he has worked in wills and trusts ever since.

Since then, McDaniel has taught for more than 20 years at his alma mater and often recruits his law students to his firm.

"What better way to hire someone than after you've abused them for 16 weeks, and they still want to work for you?" McDaniel said.

Out of the nearly 25 Estate Planning Law Specialists in the entire state, who are certified by the National Association of Estate Planners & Councils, an American Bar Association-approved entity, Williams McDaniel employs five of them.

"You could say we've got the market covered in Memphis," McDaniel said.

While McDaniel's colleagues tease he will work until he falls over dead in the office, he knows the next step of his career will be driven by the needs of families, especially as the massive baby boomer generation reaches retirement.

"With 10,000 baby boomers turning 71 each day, they are retiring at a substantial rate," McDaniel said. "The estate planning concerns are massive because if you hit 71 decades ago you were considered old, but now people are living well into their 90s. We have to look at how to structure assets, so they don't run out of money."

McDaniel was honored with this year's Lifetime Achievement Award from the Estate Planning Council of Memphis.

Last June, McDaniel reestablished Williams McDaniel PLLC as a boutique law firm when he and nine other attorneys resigned from Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs four years after the merger.