The Memory of Memorial Day

Like most american families, I have close family members that have served in the military.  Specifically, my grandfather served in the Army when he was in his 20s.  I was lucky enough to have a great-grandmother (my grandfather’s mother) who lived until 2002, she died only a few days before my 18th birthday.  My grandmother used to sit around and talk about how my grandfather didn’t take his duty to serve very seriously and went AWOL with his brother (also in the military) on several occassions.  I don’t remember all of the specifics of the stories she told since it has been almost 10 years since I have heard any of these stories but I do know that there were many and I know that based on the number of times I have probably heard these stories, I should know more details.

On this memorial day, I would like to dedicate this blog to thanking all members of our military for their service.  I’m pretty sure that my grandfather will never read this (I don’t even think he has a computer or the internet); however, I’m not thanking him or any other service member because I want any recognition for doing so.  To me, just saying thanks is enough.  If you know any service members, pass my words of thanks along, I am thanking them too.

Why Probate?

I have never met a law student that left law school thinking, “I want to be a probate attorney!”  It just doesn’t happen.  Mainly because many other practice areas catch our eye before we even get to that subject in school but also because it just isn’t a “sexy” subject.

I got pulled into probate practice by chance.  When I worked for my previous employer, our firm represented investors and banks that owned property where the purchaser/occupant had passed away.  Our client wanted possession of their property back and although there were several ways of achieving this, all options included the participation of the probate court.

In one case, we were contacted by a real estate agent who had already found a buyer for a property where the owner had passed away.  We were able to get the property released from administration within two months and as a result, the sale was completed.  This is why I recommend that every real estate agent make a connection with a good probate attorney.  You never know when your next sale will depend upon being able to get the property released from administration so that you do not miss that sale.

One of the reasons that I like this area of the law is because the probate process was developed so that all people could maneuver the probate system in order to administer the estate of a loved one and wrap up their affairs without the help of an attorney.  No other practice area is this user-friendly.  I find that because it is more user-friendly than other areas, my clients are much more receptive to my advice and guidance.  Although probate is user-friendly, I would still recommend retaining an attorney in many cases, including cases were real property and motor vehicles need to be transferred or sold and cases where there are over $500,000 in assets.

After helping investors, real estate agents, and banks get back possession of their property, I continued practicing probate and as it turns out, I like it.  I have expanded my probate practice into creating trusts, administering estates, and some estate planning.

The best compliment we could receive is a referral to a friend or family member

There have been many instances where a client has retained me to fix something that their prior attorney didn’t do right the first time; or even worst, they were their own attorney and they didn’t do it right the first time.  If there is one piece of advice I would give all of my potential clients, it is that you should not do it yourself without seeking the advice of an attorney.  Many attorneys will be willing to give you advice on how to do it yourself and then, at least you can contact that attorney to help you if things are not going well in the DIY world.
When you are preparing to enter into a contract, it is always better to have your attorney look at it.  The attorney will point out where the contract should be more specific to protect you (especially with dates) because there are almost no circumstances under which having a vague contract will protect you better.
If you find that your attorney did a good job for you, you should refer your attorney to your friends and family members.  I am an attorney that does not have a presence in the phone book and getting referrals is the best “thank you” I can get.  If you know an attorney that has been honest with you and has done a good job informing you of your rights and obligations, you should tell your friends and family members so that they are not left playing eenie meenie miney mo through the endless list of attorneys in the phone book.
I get all of my clients through face-to-face introductions and referrals from my existing clients (along with a small presence on the internet i.e. this blog).  A yellowpages ad is just too expensive for my taste and I am able to keep busy with my current system.  My personal belief is that if an attorney has to advertise in the phonebook to get clients, that attorney either has such a small niche that it is difficult to find prospective clients, or that attorney’s previous clients are not satisfied enough to recommend that attorney to others.

Mother’s Day Gift- the gift of peace of mind

Perhaps the best gift you can get your mother (and yourself) for Mother’s Day is an estate plan.  I tell my clients that it is their responsibility to make sure that their parents have estate plans.  Why?  Because when your parent dies, as the child, you (and your siblings) will have to organize and wrap up their affairs.  You can make your job much easier and you can save a lot of money by making sure that they have a well thought out estate plan. 
Estate planning does not just mean preparing a will.  A good estate attorney will not only prepare a will, but will also help you decide which property should pass outside of probate by way of transfer on death designations and can prepare a living will, power of attorney and health care power of attorney in the event that the testator becomes incompetent or incapacitated. 
Transfer on death designations are viewed as an easy way to save money and time because they give the beneficiaries immediate access to those assets rather than having to wait for a distribution through the probate court; however, transfer on death designations are not right for all people and all property and legal counsel should be sought before filling out any TOD paperwork.
Estate planning can keep family assets in the family in several ways.  You can express your wishes about how your assets should be divided after you are no longer able to make that determination by having a will prepared.  When the decedent’s wishes are expressed in a will, family members are less likely to fight over how the assets should be divided.  This will cut down on attorney’s fees and court costs that would arise if there were a dispute.  In addition, a testator can ask that the court waive a bond which can be costly depending on how large the estate is.  TOD designations are difficult to contest successfully and any assets transferred by TOD will go to the beneficiaries regardless of whether someone contests the testate or intestate distribution in probate court.
Estate planning will not only make your life easier if the worst should happen, but it will also give your parents peace of mind that they didn’t have before; something that every parent deserves.