Immigration Practice News

Volume 2, Issue 3

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Planning for Death and Disability 2I By Lisa Helen York I hate to be the one to break the news to you— lawyers don’t live forever. At some point in your legal career, it is likely you will face a disability that will prevent you from practicing or worse, you will die. So, what do solo practitioners need to do to prepare for the inevitable? Te American Bar Association’s (ABA) Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility tackled this issue in a formal opinion titled “Disposition of Deceased Sole Practitioners’ Client Files and Property.” Solo practitioners have a fiduciary duty to protect their clients’ interests even aſter the practitioners die. You may think, “What does it matter to me, if I’m dead?” Well, it matters to your family, friends and colleagues who will have to handle your affairs aſter you are gone. If you do not have a plan in place, the State Regulatory Board will step in and wind-up your affairs for you. Terefore, every solo practitioner should have a “Death and Disability Plan.” Here are some key elements of a good plan: 1I Appoint an “assisting” attorney to handle your affairs. In deciding who to appoint and how to structure the relationship you need to figure out some keys issues in advance: Do you want your assisting attorney to take over your practice or wind-up your practice? Who does your assisting attorney represent —you or your clients? What happens if your assisting attorney discovers that you have made some serious errors that would need to be reported to your State bar? How are you going to pay your assisting attorney? Make sure that you have all the important information (bank accounts, will, passwords, how to access your office, who to call for help/ information, etc.) organized and in a place that is accessible to your assisting attorney. Make sure your assisting attorney knows where this information is located. Introduce your family, staff, and friends to your assisting attorney and have them exchange contact information. A great resource for helping you gather and organize this information is the book, Being Prepared: A Lawyer’s Guide for Dealing with Disability or Unexpected Events by L. Cohen & D. Cohen (ABA 2008). 3I 4I 5I 6I Maintain an up-to-date office procedure manual that includes the following information: how to conduct a conflicts check; calendar deadlines; generate client contact and status lists; where to find open and closed files, financial records, bank information; and how to access voicemail, computer, locked cabinets, etc. Communicate your “death and disability plan” to your clients, and get authorization to disclose confidential information to your assisting attorney in your fee agreement or engagement letter. Stay on-top of administrative matters (especially before you leave on vacation) including: calendaring deadlines, filing documents, case notes, time records and billing. Have draſt client letters ready to go. 7I 8I 9I Draſt a will and update it regularly. Maintain life and disability insurance. Make sure your family and assisting attorney are aware of these policies and provide them with the key information on who to contact and how to file a claim. Review and revise your plan annually. 10I Keep your assisting attorney informed of changes. It is easy to procrastinate preparing a death and disability plan because it is natural to avoid thinking about death. However, once you have your plan in place you will spend less time worrying about what will happen to your practice when something happens to you and more time enjoying the time you have leſt! Lisa Helen York is a solo practitioner in Denver, Colo., who hopes her extraordinary clients will discover the path to eternal life while eradicating all disease, thus rendering the need for such planning obsolete. 2

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