July 18, 2019

It’s Elder Law Month: Do You Have a Plan for Your Own Disability or Unexpected Events?

May 1 is law day, we all know that, but did you also know that it’s Elder Law Day? Well, technically, May is Elder Law Month. What does that mean for attorneys? Well, for many of us that means taking a look in the mirror! You might have noticed that the average age of attorneys in Colorado is getting a bit older. From what I could dig up, somewhere around 36% of CBA members (April 2011 CBA demographics, supplied by Heather Clark via Reba Nance) are over the age of 55. Based on another statistic (let’s call it anecdotal evidence), I’m pretty sure most of them aren’t reading this post . . . !

For solo and small firm attorneys in particular, the “age thing” has important consequences for our law practices. But the bigger issues for solo and small firm attorneys have not so much to do with age as with planning. I won’t beat around the bush here – I’m talking about disability, destruction, and death. Yep, it’s why my policy is always to eat dessert first! But seriously, as the number of solo attorneys grows and many of us (yours truly included) are eligible for AARP membership, are we making the necessary plans to protect our loved ones, our law practices, and our clients? The ABA’s Law Practice Today has a good article about this, even if it is a couple years old.

If you are like the majority of my trusts & estates colleagues (I informally “interviewed” about a dozen lawyers a couple years ago), you don’t have anything in place. A couple years back I participated in a CLE program called “Planning Ahead” and we prepared some forms as part of the CLE. I think the occasion of Elder Law month is an excellent time to revisit some of the themes in that CLE. Where do we start? At the beginning!

Start with two basic questions. Ask yourself:

  • What would happen if ________?
  • What will happen when _________?

Do you have an idea of the answers? Many of us don’t! So what is the next step? Forms of course! These forms are designed to get the process started and are meant only as guidelines to help you get some strategy or plan in place with documentation to support it.

How do you get started?

How about the 15-Minute Fix? Okay, it will take longer than that – but at least the forms could be easy. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

  1. Checklist for An Assisting Lawyer to Protect the Interests of  an Affected Attorney’s Clients (read office/file management policies and procedures)
  2. Checklist for Closing a Law Office
  3. Trust and Bank Account Considerations
  4. Business Access Considerations (agreement between attorneys to manage/close a practice)
  5. Limited Power of Attorney for Assisting Lawyer (you can have an escrow holder for this one)
  6. Casualty Clause for Engagement Letter (to tell your clients you’ve made arrangements)
  7. Will Provisions Relating to Law Practice (mine is three pages long)

If this exercise doesn’t get you thinking about your practice and how it factors into your life and your legacy (read: mindful law practice planning), I don’t know what will.

Need some more thoughts about what to consider in a plan? Another helpful article with a good list is here. If you need to be scared into considering this “for real,” read this cautionary tale from the April 2012 California Bar Journal.

For Colorado information, Colorado Attorney Regulation has a lengthy pdf from 2007 here, which contains several helpful checklists. Please, don’t give inventory counsel more work to do!

You want to read more about this in book form (with a CD with forms)? Go to the CBA lending library and check out “Being Prepared: A Lawyer’s Guide for Dealing with Disability or Unexpected Events” (2008:ABA).

Start planning – even a small plan – right now.

Barbara Cashman is a solo practitioner in Denver, focusing on elder law, estate law, and mediation. She also edits the SOLOinCOLO blog and contributes content for the site. She can be contacted at barb@DenverElderLaw.org.
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