Meet the Difference Makers
What does making a difference mean to you? It could be reducing a tax burden,
advising on planned giving or helping a client manage his or her finances.
Here is this week's winner!
Kelly Pinckard, CPA
Atlantic Beach, North Carolina
Helping a grieving client close out the estate of his life-long best friend
"My name is Kelly Pinckard and I am a 39-year old CPA in North Carolina and run my own accounting business specializing in court accountings and taxation of estates, trusts, conservatorships, and guardianships. I had an elderly client who stepped forward to be the administrator of his lifelong best friend's estate. My client received a paltry executor's compensation, despite spending countless hours during 5 years of his life trying to track down heirs of this estate for which there was no will. A genealogist was hired who located 165 heirs to this estate, and their distributions ranged anywhere from $16 to $3,500. My client's compensation was eaten away by legal fees, so he actually received nothing. I offered a year's worth of my services to this client, who came to mean a lot to me, to ensure the estate was properly administered and closed, at no additional cost to him. He and his wife, both in poor health, appreciated my efforts very much, and that was compensation enough."
More about Kelly Pinckard
During her 17 years as a CPA, Kelly Pinckard has held a variety of challenging positions, including auditor at a Big Six accounting firm and industry accountant in manufacturing.
“For the past eight years, however, I have created a niche area of accounting and taxation that is the most rewarding to date,” Kelly says. “Estate Accounting Solutions was launched in late 2007 to provide relief to executors, trustees, conservators and guardians struggling with complicated and delinquent accounting reports.”
While serving as executor for her own mother’s estate, Kelly discovered the complexity that the task can present to family members and friends of the deceased.
“I wondered how many executors managed without an accounting background,” she recalls. “Furthermore, many executors are grieving and may find it difficult to complete such an impersonal task as an accounting report so soon after the death of their loved one.”
Kelly’s inspiring story about how she helped one client in particular overcome these kinds of challenges was selected as a grand-prize winning entry in our Meet the Difference Makers Contest this summer.
“After his best friend died without a will and not a single person from the decedent’s family offered to fulfill this necessary role, my client stepped forward to be sworn in as the administrator of the estate,” Kelly explains in her story.
Originally referred to Kelly by an attorney, the client discovered the full magnitude of the responsibility only when a genealogist hired by the estate identified 164 living heirs.
A gentleman in his 70s suffering from poor health, the client diligently took care of physical tasks such as cleaning out the home, maintenance of the property and preparing the house for sale—even while grieving.
However, when the time came to prepare the annual accounting report and calculate the distributions to the 164 heirs, the gentleman became extremely stressed and was clearly not able to cope.
“I essentially took over all estate administration functions from there,” Kelly says, and she continued to complete the task even long after all the of estate’s funds were allocated elsewhere.
“There came a point where I decided to stop charging for my services,” she adds. “CPAs and attorneys are always the first to get paid but I didn’t collect. I decided the only way to close this estate would be to calculate the final distributions for the 164 heirs and push through until all had received their checks. It took about 15 months.”
Kelly spent a great many hours performing her now-voluntary duties and realizes that other CPAs might have taken a different approach.
“Likely the outcome would have been that the estate funds would have been used up in accounting and attorney fees, with nothing left to be paid out to the heirs,” she says. “And that would have been acceptable and perfectly legal.”
Why was Kelly so willing to go above and beyond?
“My client had a fiduciary duty to his best friend—and I had a fiduciary duty both to my client and to the heirs,” she explains. “I could have walked away from this estate with thousands more in accounting fees but I wouldn’t have been walking away feeling good about it.”
What’s more, the client himself received no fees for all the work he did on the estate; his executor’s compensation reduced to nothing by the courts because he chose to hire Kelly to perform the duties he was expected to do.
“There was nothing I could legally do to reinstate his compensation,” she says. “My client could have walked away from this estate since there was nothing in it for him, but he wanted to honor his best friend by doing the right thing. And I wanted to honor my client by doing the right thing.”
Calling it the most complicated estate situation that she has ever faced, Kelly worked patiently with the client for a total of five years.
“I kept thinking that if my father was in the same position as my client, how would I want him to be treated,” Kelly recalls. “And so I treated my client like that. Like family. It made my decision to help him out during the most stressful period of his life a very easy one.”
Two years after finally closing the estate, the client and his wife still call to check in on Kelly.
“And I made it onto their Christmas card list,” she adds.
“There is no paycheck that could surpass the good feeling I get from thinking about the difference I made by helping them when they needed it the most.”
Previous week's winners
Melissa Cottrill, CPA
Empowering a visually impaired client to continue his career dream
"I worked with a visually impaired gentleman with a dream of opening a book store. I worked directly with the Ohio B.S.V.I. I ordered the QuickBooks Enterprise POS with scanner. Together with the client, we cataloged his entire book collection. With an enlarged monitor and instruction sheets prepared by me in extra-large type, he was able to operate his store. "
More about Melissa Cottrill, CPA
It’s not often that a tax professional agrees to accept a few children’s toys as a form of payment. But Melissa Cottrill is not your everyday tax professional.
Melissa’s story of helping a visually impaired client keep his retail store dreams alive was one of the grand prize winning entries in the Meet the Difference Makers Contest in 2015.
“I was visiting a client who told me about a bookstore owner who was struggling,” recalls Melissa. “He was frustrated with his impaired eyesight. I said that I would do whatever I could to help him.”
First, Melissa learned how to put barcodes on books so that her new client could get his inventory accounted for.
“I ordered the QuickBooks Enterprise POS with a scanner,” she says. “Together, we cataloged his entire book collection.”
Later, when the client moved to another location to open a toy store, Melissa helped him import his information and create email lists. To understand and facilitate the client’s special needs, she worked directly with the Ohio Bureau of Services for the Visually Impaired.
“With an enlarged monitor and instruction sheets prepared by me in extra-large type, he was able to operate his store.”
Once up and running, the client called Melissa for help with his taxes. This was after his toy business failed and he was struggling to close the business.
“He wanted to pay me, but I couldn’t accept. I said, ‘How about you pay me with toys?’ I got two puzzles for my niece.”
A full-time tax professional for the past eight years, Melissa works on her own with a mix of business and individual clients, providing services including payroll, bookkeeping, quarterly tax reviews, full service accounting, QuickBooks on-site training and tax preparation.
As a naturally helpful person, Melissa had several client stories from which to choose when submitting to the Meet the Difference Makers Contest, including one in which she assisted a disabled person.
“She’s still struggling but her story isn’t finished,” Melissa says. “I care about my clients. I didn’t think I was doing anything special. I just like to help people. Mentors have taken time for me. You never know if you’re going to be that one person who will make a difference in a person’s life.”
To nurture the 40 to 50 client relationships in her practice, Melissa chooses Lacerte and Intuit Tax Online, citing their price and functionality.
“I think the pricing for Intuit Tax Online is great compared to other products, which means I can be more competitive with my pricing,” she explains. “And Lacerte allows you to export K1, which is the best part about it in my opinion.”
“I like to research the law and help people with compliance,” adds Melissa. “I like to look for any break I can give them, so they can put money into their business to grow their business.”
The difference that Melissa made for her visually impaired client—and her own grand prize win—are examples of how, with a little determination, dreams can come true. Melissa looks forward to fulfilling one of her own aspirations when she travels to San Jose for QuickBooks Connect.
“Honestly, I’m a small town girl,” she says. “I’m a bit shocked that I won but it makes me feel good. I’ve never been to the west coast before. I cannot wait to get to California.”
Unwavering support for a family with crippling medical bills
"A new client came to me about 4 years ago. He works a wage job repairing equipment and she works as a tutor out of her home. A year before they came to me she ramped up her tutoring efforts into a small private high school. Then their daughter was in a car accident giving her a concussion that she will never fully recover from. It took her from accepting an all expense paid scholarship through the university of her choice to struggling to do a single class. Her medical bills have gone unpaid, throwing the family into near bankruptcy waiting on insurance to be settled. I have continued to provide tax services for free, payroll tax, year end reports, and income tax, since the accident over 2 years ago and plan to continue to do so until they are showing some recovery in their finances. The family gives of themselves beyond what anyone would expect. Their latest efforts include caring for and hopefully adopting an abused toddler. They deserve to have help and I will give it."
More about Kathy Wills
A husband and wife with a teenage daughter found their way to Intuit tax professional Kathy Wills about four years ago. What started out as a professional relationship became much more personal two years later, when the daughter suffered a life-altering injury and the parents found themselves deluged with medical bills.
“He works a wage job repairing equipment and she is a tutor working out of her home,” writes Kathy in the story she submitted to our Meet the Difference Makers Contest earlier this year. For her account of the ongoing support she has given to the family, Kathy was selected as one of the contest’s grand prize winners.
“Their daughter was in a car accident, giving her a concussion from which she will never fully recover,” continues Kathy. “She went from accepting a full university scholarship to struggling to complete a single class.”
Even as the family struggled with the daughter’s recovery, the medical bills remained unpaid, throwing the family into near bankruptcy while they waited for the insurance to be settled.
“They had to repeatedly take their daughter on a three-hour drive to a specialist,” Kathy explains. “Medical bills, travel expenses. It kind of evolved into what it was. They did not have a huge income. The last thing they needed was to fall behind on their tax returns.”
Kathy’s response? “I have continued to provide tax services for free—payroll tax, year-end reports and income tax—since the accident. I plan to continue to do so until they are showing some recovery in their finances.”
The daughter’s own recovery continues to be a challenge, ever though physically she appears unaffected.
“She’s now a struggling student who used to be top of her class,” says Kathy. “Her reasoning power and her memory have suffered. She will never be able to live alone because of this incident.”
Thanks to a growing support circle, however, that may never be necessary.
“She was married last month,” Kathy reports. “It doesn’t take away from the struggle, but she has the fortitude to handle this—which is a blessing.”
Aside from the life-altering impact of the daughter’s injury, Kathy was motivated to make a difference because of the family’s own amazingly giving nature.
“They give of themselves beyond what anyone would expect,” she says. “They always seem to have 12 extra things going on in their lives that others don’t. Their latest efforts include caring for and hopefully adopting an abused toddler. They deserve to have help, and I am giving it.”
Kathy continues: “If someone is down, you do what you can to help them up. It’s one of the pillars of our faith.”
An accounting and tax professional for 31 years, Kathy is self-employed and now works from home. After being employed at a firm that performed a lot of tax services, she slowly became more involved in that aspect of the profession. It was a “baptism by fire” in her words, but these days, taxes are the main focus and accounting is a sideline.
And because taxes can be very complicated, Kathy is happy to rely on Intuit Lacerte software and the expert technical support that comes with it.
“I rarely have trouble resolving issues,” she says. “The support people are terrific. I’ve been very pleased over the years.”
As one of the first 200 contest entrants, Kathy received an entry prize package—but she hoped that there might be more to come.
“When I got the initial prize package, I said, ‘I wonder if I’m going to get chosen for a grand prize’?”
Among everything that’s included in the grand prize package, Kathy is most excited about the advertising for her practice, designed and paid for by Intuit.
“The advertising will suit me well right now,” she says. “Getting professional help on design and writing will be very helpful. It was quite a draw for me.”
Kathy knows the value of professional help, including her own.
“I like being able to help people navigate the maze,” she says of tax preparation. “There are so many potholes and complications. I like helping people avoid those pitfalls and headaches.”
Helping a cherished client wind up financial affairs after nearly 30 years
"For 27 years I helped a client by taking care of everything with regards to finances. He owned a franchised restaurant which over the years we took from a sole-proprietorship to an S-Corp. Weekly, I would process his business invoices, run payroll and give him his weekly allowance. During the years I became his tax preparer, his accountant, his psychiatrist, his financial adviser, his insurance consultant and just someone who would listen to his problems. In December 2014, he found out he had cancer, so now I had new responsibilities. We had to get everything ready; vehicles titles changed, sell his business, and update his trust. It was a big task but I knew he relied on me to get it done. In July 2015, my client passed away. Everything was as ready as we could get it. I now will be looking after his trust and his widow’s financial issues. He was the only client I had who would pay me more than I charged him. He really appreciated everything. He will be missed."
More about Sheri Works
Sometimes, client relationships grow to become lifelong friendships. In a Meet the Difference Makers Contest winning story submitted by Intuit tax professional Sheri Works, the bond between her and a particular client ran so deep that he entrusted her to organize all financial matters as he faced a terminal form of cancer.
“For 27 years I helped a client by taking care of everything with regards to finances,” writes Sheri in her contest entry. “He owned Dairy Queen restaurants, which over the years we evolved from a sole-proprietorship to an S corporation. Weekly, I would process his business invoices, run payroll and give him his weekly allowance.”
Sheri started out as an accounting and tax professional in 1984. The restaurateur was among the first and most significant clients in the history of her independent practice.
“Over the years, I became his tax preparer, his accountant, his psychiatrist, his financial advisor, his insurance consultant and just someone who would listen,” she adds.
“He would bring me all his bills and say ‘Take what’s needed and let me know what I can spend’. He went from having one Dairy Queen, to three, and then back to one. He would call me on a Sunday morning just to say sales were good on Saturday. It was a friendship too.”
Things changed somewhat in December of 2014, when the client found out that he had terminal cancer.
“Now I had new responsibilities,” Sheri recalls.
In advance of the client’s passing, everything had to be in order so that no one else need worry. Vehicle titles had to be changed, the business sold and the trust updated.
“It was a big task but I knew he relied on me to get it done,” says Sheri. “For the next six months, we got everything ready for a smooth transition. We had already put his remaining Dairy Queen on the market. After we found out about the cancer, we had to sell more aggressively. It sold a week before he passed away in July of 2015.”
By that time, “Everything was as ready as we could get it,” Sheri says. “I now look after his trust and his widow’s financial issues. It’s been a lot to take on, but it’s something you do in a small rural community.”
Aside from the near 30-year history together, Sheri was motivated to go above and beyond for this client simply because he consistently valued her assistance.
“He was a client who truly appreciated what I did,” she explains. “His kids recalled that he asked about me in the hospital. He relied on me.”
What’s more, he was Sheri’s only client who would pay her more than she charged him. “He would say ‘You’re not charging me enough’. He wanted to make sure that I was taken care of as well. He really appreciated everything. He will be missed.”
Sheri began doing return preparation in TurboTax, then moved to ProSeries and seems to be on course for another longstanding relationship.
“If I have questions, customer support comes through,” she says. “They help me understand who is exempt or not. ProSeries meets my needs and is built in a way that is intuitive for me. I don’t see a reason to change.”
Sheri recently moved her practice into an office in town and has added several clients as a result. She now has one full-time and two part-time employees but no matter how big the business becomes, she’ll never lose touch with her client-first philosophy.
“People come in here, and ask ‘How much do you charge per hour?’ I tell them, but I also let them know that we end up doing what’s necessary. You want to see them be successful.”
Stephen Gubler, CPA
Retired tax pro gets charitable with Senior Tax on Wheels
"I retired from active practice in April, 2014. 5 months later I decided to start " Senior Tax on Wheels ". I invited a limited number of my former clients over 65 to join me in this venture. In lieu of paying me a fee, I ask each client to make a donation to a charitable entity of their choice approximately equal to what would have been the prep fee. Several clients were either homebound, in nursing homes, or relied on caregivers. For any of those clients, I personally came to their home and prepared their returns there, gave them their copy, and later e-filed all returns from home. In total, I filed about 110 freebie returns, and raised approx $25,000 for charity. In 2016, I am establishing a non-profit tax service for any senior below a certain income level, and enlisting some fellow retired CPA's to join me in this venture."
More about Stephen Gubler, CPA
How do you give back after a rewarding 40-year career as a CPA? For Stephen Gubler, the answer was simple: he continued to share his expertise with those who needed it most, in exchange for donations to charity.
Stephen’s story describing his post-retirement venture Senior Tax on Wheels was selected as one of the grand prize-winning entries in our Meet the Difference Makers Contest this year.
“I retired from active practice in April 2014,” writes Stephen in his entry. “Five months later I decided to invite a number of my former clients over the age of 65 to join me in the venture.”
In lieu of receiving a fee, he asked each client to make a charitable donation approximately equal to the tax preparation fee. But the goodwill didn’t stop there. There was also the “wheels” part of the equation.
“Several clients were either homebound, in nursing homes or relied on caregivers,” explains Stephen. “For any of those clients, I personally came to their home and prepared their returns there, gave them their copy, and later e-Filed from home.”
In total, he filed some 110 returns for his senior clients and raised approximately $25,000 for charity. And he’s not done yet.
“In 2016, I am establishing a non-profit tax service for any senior below a certain income level, and enlisting some fellow retired CPAs to assist with this undertaking,” he reports.
Over a long career that began at Price Waterhouse in St. Louis, continued at a regional firm (where he served as director of corporate tax) and culminated in his personal practice, Stephen developed a compelling customer service motto: “For me, CPA stands for close personal attention,” he explains. “There’s no such thing as a small taxpayer.”
Looking back, he appreciates the opportunities he had to help people as a CPA.
“It’s a good way to make a living,” he says. “I got real joy from being on my own, solving problems, but mostly helping people start businesses, getting people off to the right start.”
And the most rewarding thing of all? “Knowing that I did a good job and got the trust of the client,” explains Stephen. “What better compliment can you get than someone saying ‘I want you to do my tax return’? It’s personal to them—and I appreciated their trust.”
Senior Tax on Wheels allowed Stephen to continue making a difference for clients, a few of whom stand out for him.
“Marilyn had been my client for about 25 years,” he recalls. “She never married. About a year and a half ago she got dementia and needed to move into a home. She was always organized with her taxes, but this time she had nothing prepared. I worked with her family and led them through the process.”
Another client—who was also Stephen’s attorney—was struggling with diabetes.
“He took a personal interest in me, so now I’ve got to take care of him,” Stephen explains. “He was housebound, but he enjoyed our working together. He felt like he was still part of the process.”
Stephen finds that seniors in particular are thankful for tax preparation assistance, because they often continue to be wary of the IRS.
“Today’s generation don’t have it, but the older generation still have that fear,” he says. “They [the IRS] are like the big bad monster.”
Still committed to making a difference, Stephen is happy to be a contest winner, but for him the giving is an end in itself.
“I really just wanted to share the story,” he concludes. “I’ve had a blessed life. I hope to pass it along to other people. There is no better feeling in the world than to give, without fanfare.”