Volume 19, Number 5
From the Editor
From Daguerreotypes to Digital Photos
By jennifer j. rose
Estate planning conjures up all the grim aspects of law: the somber task of reading the will; a roomful of sometimes-surprised next of kin and grieving mourners delicately or resentfully honoring the last wishes of the dearly departed; and lawyers whose demeanor hovers between the decorum of a funeral director and a righteous parson. If Bob Crachit had gone to law school, surely he would've been a probate lawyer. You know the type-rectitude and propriety, a facility with math, sensible shoes, and a wardrobe of suits ranging all the way from gray to black.
Trial lawyers and their ilk, and even some young lawyers, sometimes snort that estate planning is ideal for folks who find actuarial science too stimulating. Even my own grandfather, upon decreeing what kind of law I should practice, urged a career in estate planning because he considered it free from conflict, respectable, and fairly lucrative. (Young and reckless, I chose family law instead.)
Estate planning has become a new and exciting area of practice-and that's not the result of our growing closer to the pearly gates. Most readers of GPSolo have a three-fold interest in estate planning: as a beneficiary, a decedent, and finally, a lawyer. Even those who hope never to practice estate planning are affected, as friends, clients, and family who bring up real-life questions ranging from advance directives to keeping wealth from the taxman.
Just as photography has moved from static daguerreotypes to digital enhancement, estate planning and probate practice has transformed itself from a one-dimensional, monochromatic area of practice to a spectrum of vibrant, essential hues reflecting advances in technology, social change, and choice. No longer do one-size-fits-all wills fit every situation, nor do lawyers write wills as loss leaders in hopes of building a book of probate estates to fund their own retirements. Using old tools and concepts for estate planning today is akin to taking photos with a Brownie and a flashbulb.
It's not enough to expect that a husband and wife will be a single client, executing one of those "I love you" wills. As Teresa Beasley explains in "Joint Representation of Spouses," partners frequently have secrets and may try to split the lawyer's ethical commitment to do what's best for both. Estate planning brings out ghosts, skeletons, and even primitive emotions, as Joe Hartley reveals in his article "Hidden Conflicts of Interest." Instead of dealing with Ozzie and Harriet, today's estate planner may be representing Ozzie and Harold, or single parents, or grandparents standing in loco parentis to grandchildren. An ever-changing array of close personal relationships is paving new territory amid minefields of intestacy statutes, tax consequences, and retirement benefits, as Joan Burda points out in her article "The New Neighbors: Nontraditional Families, Nontraditional Estates."
The fast-growing field of elder law has incorporated new techniques to strengthen client relationships and help seniors facing the frightening prospect of a limbo between competence and death. Betty Smith Adams, in "Challenges of Elder Law," and Robert Fleming and Rebecca Morgan, in "Advance Directives: Ten Topics to Discuss with Clients," tackle those touchy topics.
Lawyers especially need to look after their own houses, and Frank O. Brown, Jr., explains why in his article "Planning the Lawyer's Estate." Just how is a responsible lawyer supposed to get all the work out? Dan Evans details how to make it all happen, from streamlining forms and using timetables to applying the right software, in "How to Manage an Estate Practice." Finally, you may be surprised to know that most bequests to charity don't come from the Warren Buffets and Andrew Carnegies but instead are left by unassuming, ordinary folks. In "Anyone Can Leave a Legacy," Carolyn Hennesy explains how lawyers can help those clients make a difference.
Leslye Huff, the issue editor and one of the Section's Diversity Fellows, is a solo in Beachwood, Ohio. All of the credit for organizing this remarkable issue of GPSolo belongs to her.
jennifer j. rose, editor-in-chief of GPSolo, is a lawyer and writer living in Morelia, Michoacán, Mexico, after a prior life in solo practice in Iowa. She can be reached at email@example.com.