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"And what if they die?" It is a question I ask over and over with clients. During an initial meeting we discuss who will inherit the client's property. Almost all have an immediate answer:
- my partner, or
- my daughter, or
- equally to my siblings.
Okay, and what if they die before you? It is my follow-up question. There is usually a pause, and a hmmmmm, followed by an answer.
- my cousin, or
- my friend from college, or
- my siblings' kids.
Can you tell where this is going? The response is immediately met with the same question, and what if they die before you? My preference is to take this out several layers. Doing so gives my client control over the distribution of an estate. If the documents are silent, state statute would control. And that may conflict with my client's wishes. The routine is, well routine.
And then the other day a client fired back a question that made me think....hmmmmm. She asked, and what if you die before me? Who is your back-up? Being a lawyer, my answer contained the phrase "it depends".
First, the lawyer who drafts an estate plan is not the automatic lawyer for the probate. At the time of death, the personal representative makes the decision about whether to hire an attorney and if so, which one.
Second, clients can tell the personal representative that they would like them to hire me, but it is advisory, not mandatory.
Third, I do have a business succession plan, which is basically having someone take care of loose ends if I died while representing clients. But, since it is not needed at this exact moment, it is not something I share with others. I might change my mind on aspects as time passes.
And so there you have it, the reason I love what I do. Even on matters that seem routine, I am presented with interesting twists and turns. Learning, thinking, changing -- the life of a lawyer is a rewarding one.