Tag Archives: estate planning

New Growth and The Close of a Practice Area

shutterstock_160928342 (new plant)

Given the Halloween festivities last month, we have had a (fake) skeleton in our front yard for weeks. I am removing it today, as I publicly announce the closing of my estate planning practice to new clients as of January 1, 2014. The irony is fitting to me, even if it is graveyard humor. Instead, I plant new seeds to sow, as I detail at the end of this post.

What I Am No Longer Doing

I am no longer taking new estate planning clients from the general public as of January 1, 2014 for comprehensive planning, including wills, advance directives, powers of attorney and guardianship paperwork.

At some point years down the road, when I am even older and grayer (when I’m 64?), my practice may reopen. At the current time I plan to focus greater efforts on other areas of law (see below). In the meantime, I am forever grateful for those clients who have entrusted me with their life and end-of-life plans, and I will continue to work with them on any current matters.

Why

I expect this question often - Why are you closing your estate planning practice?

There are a whole host of reasons. and I certainly cannot cover all of them here. Most importantly, I launched the practice after leaving the hedge fund world, without a big idea of where I would aim from there (a tactical failure, I realize) but knowing I wanted to start a law firm of my own, do greater “good” and seek lifestyle balance. I knew that I loved practicing law. I did not realize how much I actually loved corporate law, business and contract issues or appreciate how much good I could do for my clients as a corporate attorney. Now, eighteen months into private practice after seven years with a single client (the firm at which I was in-house), I have had the diversity of experience that allows me to be a better judge of myself, my talents and what I can contribute to the legal community and public in general.

Unfortunately, much of estate planning today is formulaic, other than the advanced tax planning, which is not a practice one can launch overnight. This is evidenced by how often I am marketed products to “revolutionize” and “streamline” my estate planning practice by buying out-of-the-box solutions. At the same time, there are serious, compassionate issues to be addressed, but given the economics of estate planning for regular folks, there is never enough time to do that and run a viable practice.

What I May Do Instead on the Estate Planning Front (Short or Long Term)

I am blessed and thankful to have had the opportunity to work as an estate planner for over a year, and I met a number of very caring and devoted individuals in the field as well as wonderful clients. I may continue to offer very limited private consultations and referrals and work with a select number of individuals on portions of plans that make sense for them in the context of my other legal work.

In particular, I may re-envision my estate planning practice as one of teaching and consulting, rather than drafting of documents. How this plays out in the short and long term, and interacts with my legal practice generally, remains to be seen.

In addition, I have developed an interest in living wills, in particular, and their limitations in the State of Connecticut. As one client of mine (who happens to be a devout Catholic) said, in our state they are almost drafted as a “right to die” rather than a right to choice. If you have not considered this issue, take a look at our standard advance directive (click here) with that thought in mind.

I may consider becoming involved in advocacy work that relates to this issue, again in the short or long term, although I need to better understand how the legislature and others would react to yet another overhaul in Connecticut following the revisions in 2006. For example, I have read and re-read the standard forms in New Jersey (click here) while working with a number of clients, and they offer people much more choices and subtleties of choice. I have not formulated an opinion about whether living will standards should be harmonized among some or all states or simply broadened (in the case of Connecticut) to fit a greater diversity of options. I would welcome the input of others who have thought about this issue longer and harder than me, and I would also welcome the opportunity to share my thoughts with individuals who are already working in this area.

My Law Practice

So back to the seeds to be sown. Or, more fittingly, the plant to be pruned. I am excited about the possibilities that come with narrowing my practice areas to broaden and deepen my scope within those areas. I am also excited and thankful for my clients in those areas, who have shown great faith in me as their attorney.

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New Growth

Along with my core corporate practice and my federal trademark work, representation of non-profits is an area of growth and delight for my firm. I mention compassion above, as I have found that I am a better attorney and advocate, as well as a more peaceful person, when I believe in the individuals and causes I represent. While non-profit organizations certainly do not have the corner on the market of worthy causes, I probably do not need to tell you that they are critical actors in our collective goal of a better world.

Lest some readers try to categorize non-profit work as soft, this does not mean that I won’t show my “tough skin” on behalf of clients (for-profit and non-profit alike) in a high-stakes negotiation. Seven years in the hedge fund world taught me quite a bit of how to wield that sword when needed, and those hard-won lessons will never be forgotten. But at the same time, I find that having an open heart, with a tough skin, is the best way to serve clients.

My particular areas of interest in the non-profit world include:

- art (visual or otherwise),

- health,

- support for rape or domestic violence survivors,

-underprivileged youth,

- combating hunger, or

- any combination of the above.

Strong and Committed Practice

Along with my work on behalf of non-profits, I will continue to serve my business clients with the same high-level, committed and personalized service that they have come to expect. I have found my corporate and trademark work to be equally stimulating and engaging. In addition, I am grateful for the opportunity to have worked with a number of talented, dedicated individuals seeking my support for complex legal problems as they launch and grow their businesses, sort out personal financial and legal issues and otherwise. I look forward to engaging further with my corporate, trademark and non-profit clients as my practice further evolves through 2013 and in the New Year. As always, and especially in this month of thanks, I thank my clients, colleagues and friends for their support.
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For more information about my practice, please visit www.amscounsel.com.
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Segal Law Blog Year One – Top Four Posts

This Thursday, September 5, will be the first anniversary of Segal Law Blog. Since it is Rosh Hashanah from Wednesday evening to Friday evening, the blog will be here Thursday, but I certainly won’t! Below are my top four blog posts if you have Segal Law Blog withdrawal.

For the Christians, Buddhists, atheists and others among my readership who won’t be at the synagogue later this week, Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year. The conventional short greeting in Hebrew is L’Shana Tova, if you would like to wish someone a Happy New Year, as Pope Francis today wished Jews worldwide. Careful with your spell check though, or you’ll be wishing folks L’Shana Toga…. (No, that doesn’t mean Happy Toga Party, as fun as that could be!)

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To celebrate one year of law blogging, here are my top four posts:

My Biggest Risk, Finding My Core – One Year Later (shared 17 times on LinkedIn! Woohoo!)

The Effectiveness of a Non-Compete that is “Subject” to an Employment Agreement: Why Legalese Isn’t Always a Waste of Time

Aren’t Band-Aid [Brand Adhesive Bandages] Great? (My First Cut at Trademark Law)

Lawyer’s Fees Be Damned. Why Can’t I Just Use LegalZoom?

My profile was also a highly read page, and my next highly read post was my Q3 2012 newsletter. Finally, here’s a recent post that’s getting a lot of interest on my blog, via email responses and in the LinkedIn estate planning community:

Safe Deposit Box: Best Place to Keep a Will?

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What have I learned in a year of law blogging? It’s much harder than it looks! Despite the disclaimers, everything you write is read through the lens of could I get sued for saying that? You have to be right on the money with each word you say, two steps ahead in fact, even if there is no logical cause for concern. (See my edits in red to the Band-Aid [Brand Adhesive Bandages] post above, if you wonder what I mean. My tendency for fun, bloggy-style, tongue-in-cheek humor is not entirely compatible with a law blog. Ah, to be carefree, judgment-proof and twenty-something again….) It is also extremely gratifying when you can look back at a year of well-thought posts and feel proud of the work you have done.

In all, I look forward to another year together to discuss legal issues relevant to my clients, friends and general readership. L’Shana Tova or simply Happy Almost Autumn! As a resident of Connecticut, fall is by far my favorite season of the year. I may even post some photos of our beautiful trees and leaves so you can share in the joy.

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Never, Ever Unstaple a Will (And Did I Mention Never, Ever?)

Who would have thought that a small and simple object that (can draw blood if squeezed into a finger but otherwise) appears relatively harmless could blow your entire estate plan?

The common staple remover. An enemy of well-drafted last will and testaments and well-made estate plans nationwide.

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Here’s what I tell my clients:

Never, ever unstaple a will. Never, ever, ever. And did I mention never, ever? Don’t do it!

To drive home the point with a memorable comparison, I even have joked with some clients on occasion that unstapling a will is like having an affair. (I only say this when I am pretty well assured the joke will be properly received.) You can try to put it – i.e., the marriage or the will – back together again, but it will never go back exactly the same as it was before. There are always some holes that cannot be filled and some room for distrust that it is difficult to overcome.

There are always some holes that cannot be filled and
some room for distrust that it is difficult to overcome.

Unstapling a will can call the entire document into question. Was a page added or removed? Is it a complete and properly ordered copy? Even if the pages are numbered and initialed, how can we (sometimes many years later) be sure that no one did an artful yet fraudulent switch of parts of the document he/she did not like?

It is such a serious issue that, if a will is to be proven in probate court as the correct, complete and valid original last will and testament, there is a process of submitting an affidavit by the person who unstapled the will, discussing the reason for the unstapling, when and how it happened, and by whom. The court is understandably concerned that there was no foul play involved, and wills with multiple staple holes are regarded with suspicion.

So what should you do instead, if you need a copy of your will?

If you need a copy of your will, you should make a copy of a copy, not of the original. Or you can make a copy of the original without unstapling it, making sure that you do not damage any of the pages in the process. It’s not a good idea to have too many copies of your will floating around in any case, since you may wish to change it later and do not want someone with an older copy trying to challenge the later will. If you have any doubts, contact your local estate planning attorney before taking action that can have serious legal consequences to one of the most important documents in your legal life.

So let’s not forget. I repeat:  Never, ever unstaple your will! Never, ever!

Law Office of Anne Marie Segal is located in Stamford, Connecticut provides legal counsel to businesses and individuals in Fairfield and Westchester Counties, New York City and beyond. Ms. Segal’s practice areas include estate planning, business law, trademarks and related areas. Please visit www.amscounsel.com for more information.

None of the information posted on this site constitutes legal advice or forms an attorney-client relationship, and there may be facts not discussed here that are relevant to your situation. This is a public forum. Please do not post confidential or fact-specific information regarding your legal questions on this site.

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Safe Deposit Box: Best Place to Keep a Will?

A safe deposit box seems like the perfectly logical place to store a will and other estate planning documents. They are probably the most important documents we will ever have, so shouldn’t they be kept in the safest place?

But is it a safety deposit box the best place? Or should you keep it in a fireproof safe in your home? With your lawyer? The court? Or somewhere else altogether?

Although I mention it again below, this bears stating here at the outset and repeating: Whatever option you choose, make sure your executor knows what you did!

Safe Deposit Box

Although clients often instinctively want to put wills in a safe deposit box, many estate planning lawyers suggest not to keep a will or other important estate planning paperwork there.

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The problem arises with the fact that many states seal a safe deposit box when informed of the death of the owner, and a court order must be issued to request that the box be opened to search for the will. Although probate courts will generally issue this order “immediately”, in practice there is still a delay until the request is made to the court (or the court acts on its own) and the order is actually granted.

Documents that are generally allowed to be released include the will, any deed to a cemetery or burial plot and any life insurance policy for the named beneficiary. I mention below (by way of example) some basic information about two states, Connecticut and New York, although more complete and updated information may be applicable if and when it is needed by your heirs. Following this information is a discussion of other options for keeping your estate planning documents, such as with an attorney, with the court or in a fireproof safe in your home.

Connecticut

In Connecticut, there is a standard form to request that a safe deposit box be opened after the death of an individual (click here), which should be submitted to the decedent’s corresponding court of probate. The form may be submitted by a next of kin, spouse, or any person showing a sufficient interest in the presence of a will to obtain any will or cemetery deed in the safe deposit box. The court may also issue an order ex parte. In all cases, an officer of the bank must oversee the process and report back to the court.

New York

Surrogate Courts in New York have different forms depending on which court is issuing the order. (New York tends to be more complicated in many legal matters, unfortunately.) Here’s the form for Queens County, for example (click here). To its credit, New York has made it easier with a do-it-yourself program, called the Surrogate’s Court Safe Deposit Box Petition Program, to walk people through how to make the request (attached here). Among other documents, you will need to obtain a copy of the death certificate before making the request.

Bank Procedures

In addition to the above, a bank may have its own procedures, such as requiring Letters of Appointment, Letters Testamentary or Letters of Administration (each being a letter allowing an executor or administrator to act on behalf of the decedent’s estate) before allowing access to the safe deposit box.

As you can see, there administrative hassles involved (those discussed here and others) with storing a will or other estate planning documents in a safe deposit box. That said, for individuals who do not have another safe place to store a will or prefer the safety of a safety deposit box, it may be the best choice.

Lawyer’s Office

Another option is to keep a will with the attorney who drafted it. Again, this may or may not prove as easy as it sounds. For example, we had wills drafted by an attorney shortly after the birth of my first child. After five years the lawyer wrote to us stating that the originals would be sent back to us if we did not inform her that we wanted her to keep them. (But I thought she was going to keep them until we died?)

In addition, offices may move or close, and if you do not keep careful records, it may be difficult for your heirs to locate an original will when the time comes.

The Internet does help in this regard, but it is not foolproof. I represented a client recently who had drafted her first will many years earlier and wanted to update it, changing her executor and adding grandchildren as beneficiaries. We attempted to locate the attorney who had drafted the original will, even contacting a lawyer who had previously shared office space with him and sending out email blasts to estate planning attorneys who might have known him. The man was nowhere to be found. He had either retired or passed away himself. Needless to say, if my client had died without updating her will, her heirs would have only had a copy to submit to the court (that is more open to being contested and requires additional proof to be probated), not the original.

Finally, if the lawyer is not responsive for whatever reason, executors or others seeking to obtain estate planning documents from the attorney may also need to obtain a court order to compel production.

Again, a lawyer’s office may be the best place to store a will, depending on your circumstances. However, you should weigh all factors for and against before making a decision.

The Court

You can file your will with the court in many states, which is also a safe option, but this means that your will becomes an official document, not a private one. If you decide to change the terms of your will, you cannot get it back, so beneficiaries and former beneficiaries can see how their respective inheritances have changed (or been removed) during successive revisions. On the contrary, if a will is a private document, you can destroy the original and all copies, and would-be heirs who have fallen out of favor are none the wiser.

In addition, if you move out of the jurisdiction of the court, out of state or even out of the country, your court-filed will does not come with you. There should only be one original of your will (an inviolate rule, barring very specific cases of different wills covering different assets, such as an international circumstance). That means if you drafted a will while living in Westchester County, New York, and filed it with the Surrogate’s Court in White Plains, your executor and beneficiaries would need to obtain it from that court, even if you or they have since moved to Phoenix, Paris or beyond.

Fireproof Safe in Your Home

It may be, after considering other options, that you decide to keep your last will and testament in a fireproof safe in your home. This is often a good option, especially if you have a safe that cannot be remove from the premises by anyone seeking to tote off valuables. In that case, I would recommend keeping a copy of the will in a safe deposit box (clearly marked COPY, with instructions on where to find the original), in the unfortunate circumstance that the original is lost. Be careful not to create too many copies, since you may later revise important provisions of your will and do not want multiple prior copies floating around that a beneficiary with a reduced share tries to “prove” is your correct and valid last will and testament. This can happen even among otherwise friendly parties, such as children and grandchildren. Do your heirs a favor, and keep everything clean to mitigate potential conflicts.

The Freezer

According to the rumor mill, there may still be a few folks who actually store important documents in the freezer. I have never met anyone who did – maybe it’s a poor man’s safe? – but I certainly don’t suggest having a last will and testament shoved behind the frozen peas. Not only does it sound a bit too Sopranos to me (and James Gandolfini himself left a mess for his heirs), but the bag it’s stored in better be really, super waterproof in the event of a power failure.

Let Them Know What You Did

Regardless of the option you choose for storing your will, make sure that your executor(s) know what you did. The best estate plans only work if the right people know how to follow them and where to locate essential documents when the time comes.

Law Office of Anne Marie Segal is located in Stamford, Connecticut provides legal counsel to businesses and individuals in Fairfield and Westchester Counties, New York City and beyond. Ms. Segal’s practice areas include estate planning, business law, trademarks and related areas. Please visit www.amscounsel.com for more information.

None of the information posted on this site constitutes legal advice or forms an attorney-client relationship, and there may be facts not discussed here that are relevant to your situation. This is a public forum. Please do not post confidential or fact-specific information regarding your legal questions on this site.

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