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April 2022

On January 20, 2022, we were honored to have estate planning attorney, Mara Kent, speak on the importance of estate planning for young lawyers. The biggest takeaway was that no matter how young we are or how little we’ve accumulated so far, having an estate plan is crucial on both the personal and professional fronts. Mara helped attendees understand that there is so much more to estate planning than just the traditional route of wills and trusts and that many of the steps we can take to get our affairs in order are relatively straightforward, we just need to get them done.
On the personal side, passing away or becoming suddenly incapacitated without some sort of estate plan in place can result in a whole host of problems for your family and friends. To help alleviate these problems while you are alive, but incapacitated, the easiest thing you can do is have both a durable power of attorney for financial decisions and durable power of attorney for medical decisions. These documents will allow your designated attorney in fact or patient advocate to manage your affairs while you are unable to, without necessitating the invasive and time-consuming route of obtaining a guardianship or conservatorship. Note, however, you may want to check with your financial institutions about their own requirements for accepting POAs, as some institutions require that you sign their forms. ICLE has great forms for both types of POAs and you can also consider consulting with an estate planning attorney. Mara recommends naming an alternate attorney in fact, in case your first-choice declines or is unable to act. Of course, it is vital to only name persons whom you completely trust.
Mara also went over some of the ways you can help your family and friends avoid the probate process when you die. Having to involve the probate court can be an invasive, expensive, and a time-consuming process, and it is public. Your loved ones will thank you for organizing your affairs to help them bypass court involvement. Some steps you can take include always naming a beneficiary(ies) on your financial assets such as bank accounts, retirement assets, life insurance policies, and investment accounts. This is usually accomplished with simple forms through the financial institutions themselves. If you own real property, consider drafting a ladybird deed, which allows the property to automatically transfer to your desired remainder beneficiaries outside of the probate process.
On the professional front, whether a solo practitioner or part of a firm, Mara helped attendees understand that as attorneys, we also have the responsibility (both ethically and per court rules) to have a succession plan in place. Mara discussed the steps to make sure you have everything in order, including having a manual of office policies and procedures; a list of current clients, their contact info, and the status of their case; always keeping your calendar and due dates updated; and designating a successor or assisting attorney that will notify all your clients in the event of your death or disability and be able to step in to keep things moving. Relevant on both the professional and personal fronts, it is also useful to keep, in a secure location, an updated list of accounts and passwords.
At the end of the day, despite how unpleasant it might be to plan for your death or incapacity, it is vital to have a plan in place. Taking the time to organize your affairs, both personally and financially, will help alleviate some of the hardships your family and friends will face, and they’ll thank you for it!
Miriam M. Saffo

Nichols, Sacks, Slank, Sendelbach,
Buiteweg & Solomon, P.C.
Ann Arbor