American Bar Association
General Practice, Solo, and Small Firm Division

When a Solo Dies

By Reid F. Trautz

What would happen to your practice if you were to suddenly die? Who would handle your client matters? What would happen to your accounts receivable? Who would take responsibility for closing your practice? Your legal assistant? Spouse? Another lawyer? Would they know how to obtain an extended reporting endorsement to your malpractice coverage to protect your estate against possible future claims?

These difficult questions are now easier to answer, thanks to a chapter in the new edition of the book Flying Solo. The author is long-time Minneapolis solo practitioner, Ross Sussman, who shares his practical approach to making sure your interests and your clients' interests are protected should you die or suddenly become unable to continue in your practice.

Sussman points out that there is a good deal of information about your practice that resides in your head that is not obvious to others-even those closest to you. Information such as computer passwords, the location of insurance policies and closed client files, and unwritten employment agreements with staff and associates. The key is to get all this information on paper in a thorough manner.

Sussman's solution is to write a letter, setting forth these issues, to be given upon your death to your primary survivor. The example the author uses in the book is his own letter to his wife that covers both personal and professional matters. Using a chronological format, he sets forth what needs to be considered immediately and within 30, 60, 180 days, and within a year. Issues such as final funeral arrangements, disposition of pending client matters, office sublease arrangements (made by handshake), accounts receivable, names of important advisors (banker, accountant, insurance agent), suggested disposition of law books and office equipment, association memberships, should be covered in the letter. If an associate or colleague has been designated to continue the practice, this should be spelled out in detail, including financial arrangements.

Also included in the chapter are two sample letters to be sent to active and inactive clients, letting them know of the death and giving them instructions for the future of their legal representation and client file.

Finally, although it may be difficult, Sussman encourages you to discuss the matters now (and periodically thereafter) with your primary survivor, even though the final letter may not be delivered for many years. Clear communication and understanding are the keys to making the best of a sad situation.

Reid F. Trautz, is the director of Lawyer Practice Assistance at the District of Columbia Bar in Washington, D.C., and can be reached at rtrautz@dcbar.org.

Flying Solo

Flying Solo, 3rd Edition, recently published by the ABA Law Practice Management Section, is an 830-page, comprehensive practice management guide for solo and small firm practitioners. Check it out at www.abanet.org/lpm/catalog.

 

 

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