Practice Pointers—Probate

Practice Pointers—Probate Editor: Diane Hubbard Kennedy, 4911 E. 56th Street, Indianapolis, IN 46220,

Practice Pointers—Probate offers suggestions for improving estate planning and probate practice. The editors of Probate & Property welcome suggestions and contributions from readers.


Adding Value

Thirty years ago estate planning often meant the preparation of a will and nothing more. Today estate planners commonly prepare trusts, durable general powers of attorney, health care representative designations, and living wills as well as wills. Part of the change is due to the growing need for these documents, but part of the change is the result of adding value for the benefit of the client. Some practitioners now also prepare medical authorization forms designed to satisfy the requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. Others routinely prepare specific medical authorization powers of attorney to allow grandparents and others to approve emergency treatment of children while the power holder is caring for those children.

How else can we add value? One attorney presents all of his clients with a state bar publication directed at legal issues facing older citizens, including Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Another lawyer stocks pamphlets concerning the role of executors, the use of powers of attorney, how guardianships function, and the like. CareNotes ( publishes an excellent series of pamphlets on grieving. Funeral home directors are happy to provide attorneys with information about pre-planning funerals and burial. Many materials regarding aging, dementia, hospice care, and organ donation are also available for distribution by lawyers.

Waiting area publications also can be relevant to clients’ needs and concerns. A number of magazines aimed at seniors are listed at Similarly, books such as Aging Well by George E. Vaillant, M.D., can provide useful information. A daring lawyer might even include Being Dead Is No Excuse: The Official Southern Ladies Guide to Hosting the Perfect Funeral by Gayden Metcalfe and Charlotte Hays.

In counseling clients we can suggest that the client discuss his medical desires with his health care representatives. A Veterans Administration study a few years ago reported that long-married couples were only 50% accurate at predicting what treatment or care each other would desire in specific situations unless they had discussed those situations before being questioned. Conversations regarding organ donation and funeral services also can be encouraged. (When my father, a long-time church custodian, died suddenly, no one knew what hymns or readings he would have wanted.)

Clients should be asked if there are charitable organizations they want to include in their estate plans or as recipients of memorial donations. They should be encouraged to have an independent life insurance agent review their existing policies to determine if actual earnings of a policy have matched projections, whether the company is financially stable, and the like.

As clients often remind us, they have never “done this” (plan their estate or administer someone else’s estate) before. Any help we can give them, legal and otherwise, is appreciated. How do you add value for your clients?