Thursday, May 14, 2020

Experienced lawyers write better wills

I recently had a client (not in for estate planning) mention their wills are over 30 years old.  I encouraged them to review it with an estate planning lawyer.  


First, laws change.  In the past decade (beginning 1/1/2011) there have been a number of changes in the law that affect estates.  Congress changed the estate tax rate; Virginia has enacted a number of changes, from “Digital Access” to completely re-writing (and changing the Code sections) on administration of an estate. While reference to olde code section still ‘work’, there are subtle changes that reference to the new section makes planning easier.

Second, case law changes.  The various courts have to review estate questions regularly and many write opinions which describe the problem, provide an answer, and explain why. Experienced lawyers use those opinions to adjust their advice to reflect current ways of meeting the client's objective.

Third, our lives change.  Are you Divorced from that spouse? Did that spouse die? Did you remarry? Does your new spouse have children? Each of these is a HUGE reason to review an estate plan.

Fourth, goals change. Many estate plans which were written when children are young place their money in trust until they are (hopefully) mature enough to handle it.  Those children have grown and may no longer need protection of a trust.  But there are grandchildren to consider, or someone may have a disability.

Fifth , assets change as well as the way the assets are ‘titled’ (whose name they are in, and whether the title grants automatic survivorship). Many people establish ‘living trusts’ as their estate plan, but don’t maintain them properly – they buy property in their own name, not the trust, which can screw up the whole plan.

My recommendation to my clients to keep their plan up to date:

ANNUALLY, Read your estate plan on a ‘significant anniversary date’ (wedding anniversary or birthday are suggested) to make sure it still says what they want to happen on their death. If it’s no longer a good plan, make an appointment with the estate planning lawyer.

EVERY FIVE YEARS Consult your estate planning lawyer to do a comprehensive review of the plan. This allows the lawyer to see where all the changes affect the plan and suggest modifications to the plan to meet the new laws, lives, goals and assets.  I suggest a ‘divide by 5’ year (birthday or anniversary - 50, 55, 60, 65, etc) or calendar (2015, 2020, 2025, etc.) to make it easy.

If A SIGNIFICANT EVENT occurs – spouse dies, child dies, they win the lottery, get (re)married. Call the estate planning lawyer for an appointment and review. Retirement qualifies as a ‘significant event’.

Estate plans are not ‘static’; they are not “carved in stone”. They are very fluid and need to change with the circumstances.  Consult your estate planning lawyer.

Notice I didn’t say ‘call your lawyer’ but ‘call an estate planning lawyer’ – almost all lawyers now ‘focus’ their practice on a particular area of the law.  Criminal defense lawyers don’t know the nuances of estate planning (and estate planning lawyers don’t know the nuances of criminal defense and have forgotten who ‘Miranda’ ever was).  Unfortunately a lot of lawyers who spend a lot of time practicing ‘other things’ will happily draft a will not knowing all issues they should address. Would you go to a podiatrist for brain surgery? Same with lawyers – get one who focuses on estate planning.

New section of blog - "The Practice of Law"

Since I'm a lawyer, I really should post stuff about my area of focus (some would call it 'expertise', but I won't go that far). 

So I'm starting an area called "The Practice of Law" - look at the labels that accompany my posts to see how I categorize my musings.

I hope it is helpful - first post in this area after this is about will writing.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

A gift and a memory . . .

Just received a gift from a good friend and colleague - essentials for these COVID-19 daze.  A bottle of wine and a roll of toilet paper. Both welcome.

It reminded me of something 51 years ago - I graduated high school in 1969 and went on one of those 'educational school tours' in Great Britain (Wales, actually). For two weeks we stayed at a dorm at Bangor University, Bangor Wales, went to classes and toured the area.

But what my friend's gift reminded me of was the toilet paper they had in the dorm. Worst Toilet Paper EVER. A page from the old Sears catalog compared favorably to that stuff. And it was 'medicated', whatever that means. After a day or so everyone went to town and bought their own and took it with them when they went to the restroom.

Not only was it bad stuff, but it was insulting . . . on the bottom of each sheet was printed in red "Now wash your hands, please".

Of course these days that's great advice. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

he knew more than a lawyer . . . NOT

As part of my elderlaw practice I wrote a deed from parents to their disabled son - a permissible transfer as one of the few exceptions under Medicaid laws. His siblings had the deed recorded at the courthouse (not really necessary but that's for another essay).
Son tells siblings he doesn't think it's a valid deed. They tell me - I tell them to have the idiot call me.
Today he does. The reason he doesn't think it's valid is because the internet says there should be two witnesses to the signatures.
My response was a full, clearly enunciated, eight letter word that refers to a bovine by-product. *
I told him I've been doing this for 45 years, have written thousands of deeds, and he now owns the property. Other states may want a witness, but not Virginia.
And told him he confused an internet search with my law degree.
*bovine by-product = B.S.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Parking Saga

There is an on line forum called Quora where people ask questions, answer questions, and tell some pretty good stories in the process. I've learned a lot there. There was a question ‘Have you ever blocked someone using your assigned parking space?” I posted the following.

In the 50’s 60’s and early 70’s, my father had The. Best. Parking. Space. In Downtown. It was easy to pull in to and get out of. (the curb was, maybe, an inch and a half high). The space was about a half block from the office, which for a lawyer having to travel to various court houses was almost ideal. And there was a HUGE sign “Private Parking Day and Night” etc.

Unfortunately, if my dad wasn’t in it, some idiot thought they could use it. The location of the space was also such that he could block the offender in and not inconvenience other parkers. So he did.  Sometimes the offender would appear in the office and apologize profusely – my dad would move the car and let them out. If they were demanding or abusive, he’d tell them he left at 5:00 and would move it then.  Once he took a cab home.

Not only did he block them in, he had special peel-and-stick signs printed – 8.5 x 11 inch signs with legend “YOU ARE PARKED HERE ILLEGALLY” printed in bright red. And the signs were the old fashioned plain paper bumper sticker type that would NOT come off easily but instead in 1” pieces.

My dad was so famous for this that neighbors of the parking lot would warn off any interlopers.

When I was in college I had a 1970 Ford Maverick.  I had installed a car alarm -- old fashioned siren on motor -- that could be heard blocks away (and it saved some electronic equipment but that’s another story). One day I was downtown, saw he had someone blocked, and went into the office to ask if he wanted to switch cars and I set the alarm. Instant evil grin on his face, and I went to switch our cars. While I was doing this the neighbors called the office to see what was going on – my dad just said ‘watch and enjoy’.

A short while later the happy couple came back. Wife was a battleax type, husband was a meek Walter Mitty type. Dad was in the middle of dictation (olde school stenographer) and heard the siren.  So he finished his dictation and went to the parking lot, walking down the other side of the street.  Neighbors were watching – Battleax decided she’d pick off the stickers (he usually put 2 or 3 on a windshield) and Walter would move my car which I had kindly left it unlocked.  He opens the door and the siren starts up – and it won’t stop until you put the key in the switch. After another minute of the ear-splitting siren he goes over, shuts it off, and the happy couple leaves.

That stunt was talked about for years.