Tax/Estate: Ray S. Farris

By Irwin Speizer

Ray Farris sees all types. The greedy children. Drunks, addicts, degenerates. Irresponsible, unreasonable spouses. He’s who many of Charlotte’s well-heeled turn to when they need an iron-clad will, trust or estate plan to protect assets, keep their financial affairs private and prevent nasty family disputes. “It’s the whole panorama of the human experience,” he says. “It is not amusing. But it certainly is a vibrant slice of life.”

A member of the trust-and-estate group at Johnston Allison & Hord PA in Charlotte, Farris has a reputation for complex estate plans. “He is the master of the LLC as an estate-planning tool,” says Jim Allison, the firm’s managing partner. A limited-liability company can, among other things, shield beneficiaries from risk and offer tax advantages.

It’s the personal touches that make dealing with estate planning easier through him, clients say. Jim Babb, a Charlotte business consultant and former president of Jefferson-Pilot Communications, called on Farris when his sister, who was in the hospital dying of cancer, needed a new will. Farris drafted one immediately and sent a lawyer and legal aide from his firm to the hospital to have it signed and witnessed. “It was one of those extra little things,” Babb says. “He would have done that for anybody.”

Farris himself dealt with loss early on. An only child, he was born in Raleigh and moved with his family to Charlotte two years later when his father, a lawyer, got a job there. His senior year in high school, both parents died within two months of each other — his father of a neurological disorder, his mother of a heart attack. He went to live with his father’s cousin and never let grief overcome him. His parents, he thought, would have expected him to get on with his life.

After graduating from high school, he went to UNC Chapel Hill, where he majored in history and, as his father did in the late ’20s, excelled at football. He was a two-year starter at quarterback and made second-team All-ACC in 1961. As a sophomore backup in 1959, he scored a two-point conversion after the final touchdown in a 50-0 thrashing of Duke, the Tar Heels’ largest victory margin in the rivalry’s history.

He balked initially at following his father’s career path. “My father was a lawyer, and I thought I wanted to be a lawyer, but I really wasn’t sure,” he says. He had been accepted to the Marines’ officer candidate school his senior year but transferred to the Reserves because he wanted to go to graduate school. After training at Parris Island, S.C., and Camp Lejeune, he took business classes for a year at UNC before enrolling in law school.

After getting his law degree, he joined the Charlotte firm of Ervin, Horack & McCartha. He started his own firm — Farris & Mallard — in 1971 with Lynwood Mallard. They brought on David Underwood as a partner the next year. When a heart attack killed Underwood in 1981, the firm began a series of mergers that by the late ’80s would make it part of the predecessor firm to Atlanta-based Kilpatrick Stockton. He left Kilpatrick Stockton in 2000 for Johnston Allison & Hord. It was smaller, but it had about a half-dozen lawyers doing estate planning.

The work he does can be filled with tension, especially when children don’t share their parents’ moral and financial values. It’s revealing, too. He knew it would be. Former Carolina Chancellor William Aycock, whose class on wills he took in law school, told him so. “He said you will never encounter more human nature in any phase of the law than you will in the preparation of wills and trusts. He was absolutely right.”